IT has been 21 years, one month and 20 days since University of the Philippines last played in the UAAP men’s basketball Final Four.
During that long drought, the Fighting Maroons suffered several zero-win seasons and even celebrated with a bonfire for just ending a 27-game losing streak four years ago.
There were a couple of missed opportunities that UP could have made it past the elimination round - in 2004 and last season.
This season, the Maroons hope to make the most out of this much-awaited Final Four stint that has been more than two decades in the making.
Hoping to defy the odds despite having swept by Adamson in the eliminations, UP hopes to do the ultimate shock in their showdown set at 3:30 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Definitely, the third-ranked Maroons, who will enter the semifinals with a three-game winning streak, will not just settle for being a mere participant.
UP last played a Final Four game was Oct. 4, 1997 when it lost to FEU, 67-72, in the deciding game for the right to face La Salle in the Finals.
Coach Bo Perasol has brought the Maroons back to respectability, steering the Diliman-based squad to the semifinals on his third season.
“The Winning Maroons frame of mind was born out of desperation to salvage a semblance of pride in a program that was wrought up with neglect and passivity,” said Perasol.
“Where were are now is just a result of the significant contribution of the school administration, sponsors, alumni group and the team itself,” he added.
With what UP has achieved right now, Perasol remained cautious on what lies ahead, regardless of the Final Four result.
“The team is a work in progress and we can’t put our guards down so as not to revert back to how we were before,” said Perasol.
The Maroons hope to finally figure out what it takes to beat the Falcons, who turned to Sean Manganti down the stretch on those victories.
With La Salle out of the Final Four picture and having finished second behind defending champion Ateneo, Adamson hopes to put the fight out of UP to make it to the championship round for the first time since 1992.
The return of Manganti and Jerrick Ahanmisi from injuries will boost the Falcons. The duo sat out in last Sunday’s 56-82 loss to the Tamaraws.
The elimination round results is not a guarantee for Adamson coach Franz Pumaren, especially that the Final Four is a different story.
“It’s gonna be a classic game against UP, probably,” said Pumaren. “After that particular game against La Salle, everybody’s excited. The community’s excited. Hopefully we can tone down a bit the excitement coming into this Final Four.”