The University of San Carlos Warriors won their first championship in 57 years, riding the late heroics of Shooster Olago to turn back the University of the Visayas Green Lancers, 64-53, in the winner-take-all Game Five of the 15th Cesafi men’s basketball finals on Tuesday at the packed Cebu Coliseum.
The Warriors trailed by as much as 12 and were staring at another heartbreaking defeat in the decider for the second straight year as they remained behind, 46-40, at the start of the fourth quarter.
But Olago put the Warriors on his back and carried them to the finish line by scoring 12 points in a telling 14-0 that turned the game around and gave USC its first title in the 15-year-old collegiate league.
Olago finished with 26 points, 19 rebounds and three steals as he redeemed himelf from a horrendous performance in last year’s Game Five loss to Southwestern University where he managed just four points and turned the ball over 10 times.
He was eventually named the league’s MVP and was joined on the Mythical Five by teammate Charles Pepito, SWU guard Mark Jayven Tallo, University of San Jose-Recoletos’ forward RJ Dinolan and UV wingman Leonard Santillan.
Britt Reroma, USC's head coach, said that the team's achievement was a dream come true for the entire Carolinian community, which last celebrated a championship in 1958 during the days of the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association.
"We just didn't give up on our team. We fell short last year but we didn't give up," he said.
He also heaped praise on Olago who he said did not cave in in spite of the tremendous pressure on him. "I just told him to keep on pounding, to keep on working inside and good things will happen."
The Green Lancers took advantage of the size mismatch presented by Santillan to open a 17-6 lead after the first 10 minutes of action. Standing 6-foot-5 and defended by guards several inches shorter than him, Santillan relentlessly scored down low and had nine by the end of the first.
He continued his onslaught in the second period to give UV their biggest lead of the game at 12, 20-8 and only a late run by Victor Rabat, Pepito and Olago got USC within five, 25-30, at halftime.
UV opened the third with a 10-3 run capped by a huge tomahawk slam by Steve Akomo and a long two by Franz Arong to push the lead back to a dozen, 40-28. USC later responded with five straight points from Olago to pull within six, 40-46, heading to the final frame.
The fourth was all USC as guard Kiefer Lim kicked the run off with a floater in the lane. Olago then started a string of 12 straight points – and fished Akomo’s fourth foul that proved to be the game’s turning point.
Finding his second wind, Olago relentlessly drove into the heart of UV defense and scored one bucket after another, even stealing the ball at halfcourt and going all the way for a thunderous slam that helped give USC a 52-46 advantage, 6:34 to go in the game.
After UV momentarily stopped the bleeding with a fadeaway jumper by Akomo, Pepito scored on consecutive undergoal stabs off great passes by Lim for a 56-48 Warriors lead. Graduating forward Nico Magat then sank a dagger triple from the corner to put USC ahead by double-digits, 59-49, 1:53 to go.
UV self-destructed not long after as star guard Jun Manzo was ejected from the game for punching Olago in the gut. Ian Ortega and Olago then hit several free-throws down the stretch to complete their title run.
After a strong start, UV’s weapons fell silent as Santillan finished with just 16 points. Akomo couldn’t find his range all game and had just six while Manzo, UV’s spark plug in this series, came up with just four.