NIC Cabanero made it clear that University of Santo Tomas is his team now.
Thrust into the lead position after graduations and defections from UST, the sophomore guard powered the Growling Tigers to a 69-60 victory over the Adamson Falcons to kickstart the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Cabanero had 33 big points, to go with four assists, two rebounds, and one steal to reward coach Bal David his first victory at the helm.
He was instrumental in the Growling Tigers' pull-away and gave his side a 10-point cushion, 61-51, with 6:24 to play before quelling the Soaring Falcons' late rally that made it 65-60 with 41.6 seconds left.
That allowed the rest of the team to follow his lead, with Christian Manaytay nabbing seven points, six boards, and one steal and Senegalese center Adama Faye grabbing 15 rebounds on top of his six points, two dimes, two steals, and two blocks.
Cabanero's scoring outburst was the most by a UST player since Marvin Lee's 30 points in the team's 79-68 win against UE in Oct. 28, 2018 in UAAP Season 81.
It was a tough opener for this season's hosts as Adamson was plainly outworked and outhustled by a young and hungry UST crew, on top of the Soaring Falcons shooting themselves on the foot with missed freebies from Lenda Douanga and Joem Sabandal stepping out of bounds with 24.8 ticks left.
Lenda Douanga paced the Soaring Falcons with 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Joshua Yerro also had 13 on his 5-of-14 shooting.
Jerom Lastimosa was held to just 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists as he tried to bring Adamson back in the game yet found himself routinely caged by the suffocating UST defense.
UST 69 -- Cabanero 33, Manaytay 7, Faye 6, Pangilinan 6, Mantes 5, Mantua 4, Calimag 3, Duremdes 2, Herrera 2, Manalang 1, Lazarte 0, Magdangal 0, Laure 0.
ADAMSON 60 -- Douanga 13, Yerro 13, Lastimosa 10, Hanapi 10, Sabandal 9, V. Magbuhos 3, Barcelona 2, Colonia 0, Manzano 0, Flowers 0, Barasi 0, Torres 0, Manlapaz 0, Jaymalin 0.
Quarters: 23-18, 42-38, 48-42, 69-60.