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In his last year of eligibility, Zavier Lucero hoping to lead UP to UAAP title

Can Zavier Lucero (left) and the Maroons soar past the Eagles in Game 2? —UAAP MEDIA

Can Zavier Lucero (left) and the Maroons soar past the Eagles in Game 2? —UAAP MEDIA

Defending champion University of the Philippines (UP) knows that with Ateneo caught in a battle for survival, the Blue Eagles have no other options left but to force a decider.

The Maroons want to deny them even that.

“We hope to put this away with a good margin. If we can avoid [the need for] heroics, that would be nice. But whether it’s close or not, we’ll be ready for that,’’ said Zavier Lucero, the 6-foot-7 UP star who wants to end his college career with a title and certainly played like it in Game 1 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals.

Lucero’s defensive masterpiece, along with Harold Alarcon’s killer threes, cemented UP’s 72-66 victory in the best-of-three series opener and pushed Ateneo into a corner.

With Lucero and Alarcon suiting up for Game 2 of the finals on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, UP will gun for a sweep of the title series against an Ateneo team desperate to forge a one-game duel for the crown.

“We got to be poised and calm in that challenge and be able to come out on top no matter what. This is a great opportunity, so we have to seize that,’’ said Lucero.

Diouf MVP

Lucero and his teammates are hoping to avoid last season’s scenario where UP allowed Ateneo to level the series in Game 2. The Diliman-based school eventually grabbed the trophy on a huge triple by JD Cagulangan down the stretch.

The Maroons are certain to walk out of the Big Dome with a trophy. UP’s Malick Diouf will be formally awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy during the awarding ceremony prior to the 6 p.m. Game 2 tip-off. Diouf plays an integral part of UP’s roster that includes pivotman Carl Tamayo and a fleet of sturdy and effective backcourt personnel in Cagulangan, Cyril Gonzales, Terrence Fortea, Gerry Abadiano, James Spencer and Alarcon.

It’s a downright solid 10-man rotation for the Maroons, with hulking power forward Henry Galinato also hoping to do enough to allow the school to repeat as champions.

2 titles, 1 year

But UP coach Goldwyn Monteverde would rather not beat the drum just yet in their quest to carve history as the only basketball team to capture two UAAP titles in the same year.

“Going [into] Game 2, we know the kind of team that we will face. It’s a team you cannot afford to relax against. We’ve been talking about it that we should really play good defense,’’ said Monteverde.

“There were times that we suffered from lapses, but the good thing about it was they would always communicate [and talk about] their lapses and correct these mistakes that we were able to sustain until the end of the game,’’ added Monteverde. INQ

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