UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas ended Ateneo’s five-year championship reign with a rousing 82-74 victory on Wednesday as the Tigers clinched the last place in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 76 seniors basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Karim Abdul set the tone early by dominating Ateneo's big men while Jeric Teng hit some crucial free throws late for the Growling Tigers, who got back at their tormentors in last year's Finals to end the Blue Eagles' run of 14 successive Final Four appearances.
The Growling Tigers won four of their final five games to finish the eliminations with an 8-6 win-loss card and make it to the Final Four, where they will face top-seed National University on Sunday.
It was a shocking end to the campaign of the Blue Eagles, who thrice came back from huge deficits but came up short in the end to miss the semifinals for the first time since 1998.
“It’s all about puso and pride,” said UST coach Pido Jarencio, whose team collected victories late in the season to clinch a Final Four berth.
Abdul had 19 of his 25 points in the first two periods to contribute to the Tigers’ big lead at halftime. Teng, with his college career on the line, played his best game since returning from a hamstring injury by contributing 17 markers.
“Ang leader ko, bumalik. He’s back,” Jarencio said, referring to Teng.
The Tigers relied on their outside shooting for a strong fourth quarter push, with Tata Bautista and Jeric Teng hitting three triples in a 13-2 start to bounce back after seeing their big lead slip away in the third.
UST had a sizeable 37-19 lead in the second quarter but Ateneo scored 10 straight points to start the third.
The Blue Eagles even tasted the lead in the third, 51-49, but Aljon Mariano converted a three-point play with 9.6 seconds to help UST regain the advantage.
“Aggressive kami, ang ganda ng shooting percentage namin… Pero ’yun na naman, may tendency na mag-relax. Actually, talagang mabigat na kalaban ang Ateneo, mahirap talunin ng ganun-ganun lang,” said Jarencio.
A crucial 8-0 blast by UST was more than enough to seal the victory as the Tigers grabbed a 75-62 lead with 2:34 left in the game.
Ateneo will have a lot of pondering to do after a season that started with a 0-3 win-loss slate and ended with two straight defeats and their head coach Bo Perasol not in the game as he served a one-game suspension for a run-in with a fan against La Salle.
Kiefer Ravena added 20 points for the Blue Eagles but fifth-year guard Juami Tiongson only had two points in his last collegiate game. Chris Newsome did have 13 points but had three fouls early in the game.
Other players came up with the goods for UST, with Ed Daquioag chipping in 13 points and Kevin Ferrer scoring 10 before fouling out.
UST (82) – Abdul 25, Teng 17, Daquioag 13, Ferrer 10, Mariano 7, Bautista 6, Sheriff 4, Pe 0, Lo 0, Lao 0.
Ateneo (74) – Ravena 20, Newsome 13, Elorde 12, Buenafe 9, Pessumal 8, Golla 4, Erram 4, Tolentino 2, Tiongson 2, Capacio 0.
Quarterscores: 25-14; 30-26; 52-51; 82-74.