MANILA, Philippines — Ricci Rivero had an off-shooting night and committed crucial turnovers down the stretch. But he delivered the two crucial free throws that grounded Ateneo’s flight to a second straight outright Finals in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament.
After missing two three-point shots and committing an error off a bad pass as University of the Philippines trailed 83-82 with 32.4 seconds left, the graduating guard executed another isolation play and drove to the basket, drawing a foul from Gian Mamuyac.
Rivero displayed grace under pressure in front of the 10, 512 fans, sinking the two charities for an 84-83 lead with 22.2 ticks remaining as the Fighting Maroons ended the Blue Eagles’ 39-game winning streak, which lasted for two years, and shifted the postseason format to a regular Final Four.
“My turnovers, I’m very accountable to that. It was my passes, I was really trying to create from my teammates because my shots aren’t falling, I don’t know things aren’t going my way,” said Rivero, who committed five of the team’s 11 turnovers.
“But I was telling them to just look at me and I’m gonna create for my guys and I’m very thankful to coach Gold for giving me that opportunity, but again that wasn’t really all me it was really God.”
The 23-year-old scored eight points on a poor 2-of-9 shooting night but had a perfect trip to the line making all his four free throws including the two winning shots as he believed he was used as God’s instrument to complete the upset.
“I’m thankful to papa Jesus for my free throws. He guided me all throughout the game, throughout the whole team, we’ve been practicing that but I offer my two shots to Him,” he said. “It’s all Him and that wasn’t me. I was used as an instrument to make those shots.”
UP coach Goldwin Monteverde said he always believed in Rivero as his gamble to keep the 6-foot-1 guard on the floor has paid off despite his struggles.
“I’ve always believed in Ricci ever since and I really trust him. I think he knows it, and the team also trusts him in that kind of situation. I know he could do things for the team,” Monteverde said. “He is brave and he has the confidence.”
Rivero is grateful to play under Monteverde and be part of this batch of Fighting Maroons in his last playing year.
“To be able to play to coach Gold’s system, it is such an honor for me to gain so much from him, from the whole coaching staff, from my teammates. They’ve been a big part of my career, especially last playing year,” said Rivero. “I’m just so happy we are seeing what the team is capable of, and we really showed that this UP team is something else as long as we listen to coaches, stick to our game plans, stick to the system and trust our teammates.”
Rivero will play the last stretch of his UAAP career when the twice-to-bear UP battles La Salle in the Final Four on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
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