Bright Akhuetie and Jun Manzo delivered in the endgame as last year’s finalist University of the Philippines (UP) tamed Far Eastern University (FEU), 61-55, for a winning start in Season 82 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Reigning MVP Akhuetie and playmaker Manzo joined hands in sparking the Fighting Maroons’ six-point run with two minutes left in the tight game en route to a breakthrough victory this season.
Head coach Bo Perasol, however, was not satisfied with the Maroons’ performance as they kicked off their title bid.
“After going to the finals, it’s natural for us to aim for the championship. But as we have played earlier, it’s not going to be easy. We know we could have done better than that,” said Perasol.
Earlier, University of Santo Tomas (UST) also opened the season with a win after routing University of the East, 95-82, behind its prized recruits.
“It feels good to win the first game because it boosts your morale especially if you have nine newcomers,” said UST head coach Aldin Ayo.
Akhuetie and Manzo’s heroics salvaged the impressive showing of forward Javi Gomez De Liaño, who fired a game-high 22 points on an efficient 10-of-16 shooting from the field.
Manzo finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists while Nigerian center Akhuetie tallied seven markers and 11 boards.
Former De La Salle University guard Ricci Rivero, who provided a highlight reel with a one-hand dunk off Manzo’s pass early on, added seven points.
The Maroons overcame the absence of star forward Kobe Paras, who missed the game due to a minor ankle sprain he sustained during their practice last Monday.
Gomez De Liaño waxed hot early to help UP seize a 38-27 halftime lead but FEU retaliated in the second half, tying the game at 55-all on Wendell Comboy’s free throw at the 4:30 mark of the fourth quarter.
That would be the Tamaraws’ last point, though, as Akhuetie hit a floater over Cameroonian big man Patrick Tchuente with 1:35 remaining before Manzo sank four pressure-packed freebies to seal the result.
Rey Bienes had nine points while Comboy, Tchuente and Ljay Gonzales had eight markers apiece for FEU.
UST turned to UAAP debutants Rhenz Abando, Beninese center Soulmane Chabi Yo, Brent Paraiso and Sherwin Concepcion.
Abando erupted with a team-high 22 points, Chabi Yo drilled in a double-double of 19 markers and 12 rebounds while Paraiso and Concepcion chipped in 10 points apiece for the Growling Tigers.
Rey Suerte had a game-best 23 points and Senegalese center Alex Dhiakite had a 20-point, 21-board double-double in their debut for the Red Warriors.
Meanwhile, in the women’s division, undisputed five-time champ National University thrashed FEU, 80-60, to fire off its title defense.
The Lady Bulldogs stretched their streak to 81 wins dating back to 2014.
UST 95 – Abando 22, Chabi Yo 19, Paraiso 10, Concepcion 10, Cansino 9, Subido 5, Cuajao 5, Cosejo 5, Ando 4, Nonoy 3, Huang 3, Pangilinan 0, Bataller 0.
UE 82 – Suerte 23, Diakhite 20, Pagsanjan 15, Mendoza 10, Tolentino 6, Abanto 5, Manalang 3, Apacible 0, Antiporda 0, Sawat 0, Conner 0.
Quarter scores: 27-19, 51-39, 69-52, 95-82
UP 61 – Ja. Gomez de Liano 22, Manzo 9, Akhuetie 7, Rivero 7, Murrell 6, Ju. Gomez de Liano 6, Webb 3, Prado 1, Mantilla 0, Tungcab 0, Spencer 0.
FEU 55 – Bienes 9, Gonzales 8, Tchuente 8, Comboy 8, Tuffin 6, Torres 6, Cani 5, Ebona 3, Celzo 2, Alforque 0.
Quarter scores: 20-17, 38-27, 47-44, 61-55