It's official: University of the Philippines has grabbed solo lead in the UAAP standings.
The Fighting Maroons defeated University of the East, 62-55, on opening day of UAAP season 78 on Saturday, September 5 at Smart-Araneta Coliseum. UP had ended a 27-game losing streak last season after a win over Adamson University, and didn't get its first win of the season until their seventh match. They finished Season 77 with a 1-13 record.
UP was without the services of long-time starters Kyles Lao and Mikee Reyes, who had graduated, and were playing their first regular season game with new coach Rensy Bajar.
Having a four-point cushion midway into the fourth period, UP was seemingly in trouble as import center Cheik Kone was whistled for his fifth foul, but another bigman stepped up to the challenge as Gelo Vito nailed three-straight shots from downtown.
However, UE responded with the gutsy effort from Chris Javier and Edson Batiller to cut the deficit to four with 20.8 ticks left, 55-59.
The Fighting Maroons had to convert their charities in the dying seconds to keep the rallying Red Warriors at bay as Dave Moralde split his free-throws from the foul line with a lucky bounce, while Jerson Prado drilled in two to secure the scintillating triumph.
The last time that UP was successful in its season-opening game was in July 2011 when the Diliman-based brigade also thumped the Red Warriors, 69-61, under the tutelage of Ricky Dandan.
Vito, a former La Salle Greenhills stalwart, finished with 11 buckers and was perfect in all of his three attempts from beyond the arc.
Aside from Vito, ex-San Beda Red Lion Dave Moralde contributed eight points to UP’s conquest versus UE.
Batiller amassed 17 points to lead UE in the losing exertion, while Javier mustered a double-double output of 10 markers and 10 rebounds.
UP (62) – Vito 11, Moralde 8, Desiderio 7, Manuel 7, Dario 6, Prado 6, Amar 4, Longa 4, Asilum 3, Kone 3, Juruena 2, Gallarza 1, Harris 0, Lim 0, Webb 0, Jaboneta 0
UE 55 – Batiller 17, Javier 10, Palma 6, Manalang 5, De Leon 4, Abanto 4, Charcos 2, Gagate 2, Yu 2, Sta. Ana 2, P. Varilla 1, Derige 0, Gonzales 0
Quarter scores: 11-7, 29-25, 45-37, 62-55