For the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, winning their first cage title in 36 years was a learning experience.
For most of the elimination round, the squad was not playing to the level that it wanted to.
But everything changed when the Fighting Maroons snapped the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ winning run at 39 games.
UP coach Goldwin Monteverde said this as he recalled the Fighting Maroons’ journey in the 84th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament.
“We did not play our game the way we wanted it to be at sa gusto kong makita sa team. We took it one game at a time,” said Monteverde some two weeks after they celebrated their 72-69 overtime triumph in Game 3 of their best-of-three finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
After hurdling Ateneo in the second round, the Fighting Maroons played differently as they got past the La Salle Green Archers twice in the Final Four and went the distance with Ateneo in the finals.
Fans reaching 15,132 at the MOA Arena watched as Monteverde claimed his third crown for a school team. He had earlier coached the National University Bullpups in the high school division back in seasons 81 and 82.
Monteverde recalled that the Maroons were not expected to get past the Blue Eagles in their final elimination-round match, since Ateneo was winning with an average margin of 17 points.
But doing their homework and studying how they executed plays did the trick for the team.
“Every time maglalaro kami, we looked at our mistake, ang kung paano pa pagagandahin. Even sa wins namin, we would try to improve as a team. Sa execution ng offense and how we should improve our defense. Ang dami namin na close games,” added Monteverde.
In the end, it was Joel Cagulangan’s basket in the final seconds that ended decades of heartbreak. They earlier won the title 1986 and in 1940, which the Maroons shared with Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas.