For the first time in a long while, the University of the Philippines is still in contention this late in the season.
With a 4-8 win-loss record, the Maroons are very much still fighting for a playoff berth in the UAAP 79 men’s basketball Tournament with 5-5 and fourth-running Adamson University well within reach.
Expected to take a step forward under new coach Bo Perasol, State U has still surprised in seizing a share of fifth-place after a dozen games in the tournament. That includes team captain Jett Manuel who even had to say, “This is the first time in my career that, at this point in the season, I’m still vying for the Final Four.”
The graduating guard is only making the most of this newfound opportunity. Following a 19-point, five-rebound, two-assist, and two-steal performance in their big-time win against National University last Wednesday; he spiked his already career-best averages to 15.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists.
He showed up especially when UP needed him the most, making good on all six of his free throws in the last five minutes to repulse the rallying Bulldogs and preserve the 71-66 win.
Leading the Maroons into notching four wins in a season for the first time in a decade, Manuel was recognized as the ACCEL Quantum/3XVI-UAAP Press Corps Player of the Week for October 24 to 30.
He bested De La Salle University’s Ben Mbala and teammate Javi Gomez de Liano for the weekly citation. Since the revival of the weekly citation in 2005, this is the first time the Player of the Week hails from Diliman.
For the 23-year-old, however, he and the State U aren’t done making history just yet – especially with assignments against the bottom two teams remaining in their schedule.
“We’re grateful right now for the (fourth) win, but me, I’m selfish, I want to win more,” he said.
He then continued, “You know, these opportunities don’t come often, especially for UP. So I always tell the team coming into games that I want us to win so bad.”
And so, Perasol and the rest of UP remain determined to follow their leader into battle – the very last of his collegiate career.
“I think we’re going to fight for that chance. I think we’re going to embrace that opportunity.”