MANILA, Philippines — After struggling in the Final Four, Zavier Lucero regained his scoring touch when it mattered most for University of the Philippines to steal Game 1 of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball Finals.
The Filipino-American missed all his four shots in the first half but willed UP back to upset the defending champion Ateneo, 81-74, and take Game 1 of the best-of-three finals on Sunday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Lucero’s shooting was missing in their semifinals series against La Salle, shooting 3-of-17 in two games. But in his first UAAP Finals, the 22-year-old rose to the occasion, scoring seven straight points in the last two minutes for the Fighting Maroons before James Spencer’s clutch triple to force overtime.
“It felt good to see a couple go through, for sure,” said Lucero, who also scored a clutch triple in overtime and finished 17 points and 13 rebounds.
The 6-foot-6 forward, who was once a top 2 statistical leader in the first round, admitted his shooting slum is part of the game.
That’s why he focused on defense and other things he can do as he has faith in his teammates, who can take charge in scoring.
“I’ve had worse games in the past, too. I’ve been playing the game a long time, I know that basketball is gonna be like that sometimes,” he said. “As long as I can try to do the other things, it’s not all about putting the basketball in the hoop. We got a lot of guys that can score.”
After putting UP on the cusp of the UAAP title since 1986, Lucero credited their massive Game 1 win to his teammates, who played their hearts out and executed great defense against the once-invincible Ateneo.
“We know how good offensively Ateneo is, so as a team we really gotta lock in and play together on defense. Carl (Tamayo) did a great job on (Ange) Kouame, and all of our guys did a good job of trying to communicate and play through whatever we were going through and just play hard,” he said. “I’m happy. We showed the last game the heart that this team has, so I’m glad we kept it going.”
Lucero and the Fighting Maroons go for the crown and end the Blue Eagles’ three-season reign in Game 2 on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
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