ARIC del Rosario still has it.
After almost a decade of absence, the legendary mentor returned at the helm a winner on Friday night, leading University of Perpetual Help to an 82-70 win over Lyceum in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at the Arena in San Juan.
“Tagal ko rin nabakante,” said the 72-year-old Del Rosario, who led University of Santo Tomas to four straight UAAP titles from 1993-96.
Del Rosario’s coaching was tested right away as the Altas needed to weather a late Pirates storm to pull off the victory.
The Altas almost saw their 17-point second-half cushion (43-26) disappear when the Pirates embarked on a third-quarter run and outscored the Altas in the period, 28-18, to cut the lead to just three entering the fourth.
Jet Vidal was on target for the Altas, firing 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field to lead his team.
“He’s really my top gun,” Del Rosario said in Filipino of Vidal, who’s in his last playing year.
Earl Thompson and Nigerian import Nicholas Omorogbe added 16 and 14 markers, respectively, for the Altas, who won their first opening-day game since 2007.
The Altas also won despite shooting a horrific 18-of-45 (45 percent) from the charity stripe.
“Hindi pa ako satisfied. Marami pang kulang,” Del Rosario said.
The Pirates, who dropped to 0-2, were led by Chris Cayabyab’s 17 points, but only four of those points were in the second half.
Shane Ko, who added 11 for the Pirates, capped his squad’s third-quarter rally with a putback with five seconds left in the game.
Perpetual (82) -- Vidal 17, Thompson 16, Omorogbe 14, Paulino 9, Babayemi 6, Allen 6, Jolangcob 5, Alano 5, Elopre 2, Arboleda 2, Asuncion 0
Lyceum (70) -- Cayabyab 17, Ko 11, Francisco 11, Zamora 9, Laude 8, Ambohot 4, Guevarra 4, Azores 4, Garcia 2, Mallari 0, Edding 0, Mendoza 0, Martinez 0
Quarterscores: 19-14, 39-26, 57-54, 82-70