KARIM Abdul saved University of Santo Tomas from an endgame meltdown, swatting away an LA Revilla layup in the dying seconds to preserve a thrilling 73-72 over De La Salle on Wednesday in Game One of the UAAP Season 76 seniors basketball finals at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Abdul's big defensive play complemented the game-long heroics of Kevin Ferrer and Jeric Teng and enabled the Tigers to move within a win of becoming the first fourth-seeded team to win a championship since the Final Four format was institutionalized in 1994.
The Tigers can wrap up their first championship since 2006 when Game Two of the best-of-three series is played on Saturday afternoon, also at the Big Dome.
The veteran Teng led from the front all game long to finish with 17 points while the in-form Ferrer led the Tigers with 20 points, with his last three points coming on a big three-pointer that appeared to have wrapped up the game for UST, 73-69.
However, De La Salle's Jeron Teng cut the deficit back to one with a three-point play and UST committed a horrific miscue off an inbound when Aljon Mariano lost a pass by Ferrer, giving the Archers one final shot at stealing the victory.
Almond Vosotros missed a three-point attempt and the ball was batted around and eventually landed in the hands of LA Revilla whose short jumper was blocked by Abdul as time expired in a game that left UST coach Pido Jarencio in disbelief.
“Ako rin na-shock kung paano kami nanalo,” Jarencio said. “Breaks of the game lang.”
Abdul finished with 19 points while battling the formidable frontline of the Archers, whose streak of nine successive wins came to an end in a game of wildly changing fortunes.
UST started out strong posting an 18-2 lead early but De La Salle managed to come up with a run of its own to cut the deficit to a manageable seven points, 38-31, at halftime.
La Salle started the third quarter with a 13-2 run to take command but UST answered with its own 7-0 run to set up the thrilling ending.
Ferrer, Abdul, and Teng combined for 19 of the Tigers’ 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Ferrer also went 5-of-8 from beyond the three-point arc - none bigger than the dagger he hit with under a minute remaining in the game.
Vosotros broke out of a shooting slump to lead the Green Archers with 20 points behind a 3-of-7 clip from three-point land. Jeron Teng added 15 points, Arnold Van Opstal 13 and Jason Perkins had 11 points after being held scoreless in the first half.
UST (73) – Ferrer 20, Abdul 19, Teng 19, Sheriff 6, Daquioag 4, Bautista 3, Mariano 2, Lao 2, Pe 0, Lo 0.
DLSU (72) – Vosotros 20, Teng 15, Van Opstal 13, Perkins 11, T. Torres 7, Revilla 4, N. Torres 2, Tampus 0, Montalbo 0, Reyes 0, De La Paz 0.
Quarterscores: 23-13; 38-31; 50-54; 73-72.