By Marjoe Toquillo

PHOTO: Rappler

The UP Fighting Maroons showcased a gritty performance to cease Ateneo Blue Eagles’ 39-game win streak, 84-83, to force a traditional Final Four setup for this year’s UAAP Men’s basketball tournament inside the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday.

The Katipunan Battle was put to its conclusion under the Fighting Maroons’ favor after Ricci Rivero sank two free throws in the last 22 seconds to hang on to its one-point escape.

“Winning against Ateneo, of course, is a big achievement for us,” said UP coach Goldwin Monteverde. “One thing good for me earlier is that our team stayed as a team no matter how close the game was,” he added.

The Fighting Maroons took the full responsibility in depriving the Blue Eagles of continuing their magnificent 39-win streak. It is also the first loss of the Blue Eagles in four big years since 2018.

Claiming the early lead, Rivero and Carl Tamayo’s collective efforts led UP in toppling the Blue Eagles in the first quarter with a 27-13 score.

The Blue Eagles, however, eased the Maroons onslaught with Ange Kouame’s successful three-point opportunity plays complemented by Dave Ildefonso’s three-point buckets,  minimizing UP's advantage to 6 in the second quarter, 50-44.

SJ Belangel with his lay-up at the 7:26 mark of the third led Ateneo’s rise from its upsetting first half as the Blue Eagles snagged their first lead of the match at 53-52.

Even so, UP was able to stand firm on its dominance by clinching the favor of the third quarter, 70-67.

The second Battle of Katipunan reached its climax at the fourth as both teams were swapping turns in holding the upperhand.

In the final 32.7 seconds of the match, Ildefonso cleaned up Gian Mamuyac’s attempt to bring Ateneo’s chance of winning closer at 83-82.

After Rivero sank his free throw points, SJ Belangel threw a supposed three-point shot, but failed to sink it inside the hoop.

Despite Malick Diouf’s miss at his two free throw shots at the last second of fourth quarter, he ensured the 12-2 slate for the Fighting Maroons with his swift offensive rebound to seal the game.

Diouf was the game giant of the match with 18 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block while Carl Tamayo and James Spencer earned 16 and 12 points respectively.

Kouame with his usual mammoth presence played his role for Ateneo with 21 points while Dave Ildefonso had 18.

Both the Fighting Maroons and the Blue Eagles have a twice-to-beat advantage in the tournament.

The semis is expected to happen this Wednesday, May 4 as the UP Maroons are set to face the DLSU Green Archers while Ateneo will lock horns with the FEU Tamaraws.