A HOT-STARTING University of Perpetual Help withstood a furious fightback by San Sebastian and eked out an 82-79 victory on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan to gain a share of the lead in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Earl Thompson, Juneric Baloria, and Harold Arboleda led the way as the Altas banked on a 15-0 blast to start the game, before seeing their lead, which grew to as many as 21 points, disintegrate no thanks to a second-half rally by the Golden Stags.
But the Altas, behind the timely heroics of rookie big man Ric Gallardo, showed tremendous character down the stretch to regain the lead and avoid a major reversal.
“Gusto lang talaga manalo ng mga bata,” said a relieved Altas coach Aric del Rosario, whose team registered a second straight win to join San Beda on top, while dislodging the Stags there by dealing their victims their first loss in three games.
The victory somehow meant vengeance for the Altas, whom the Stags tormented the past few seasons, including last year when Perpetual lost all its three meetings against San Sebastian when both teams were just Final Four aspirants.
Now, in a battle between legitimate title contenders, it was the Altas who caught fire early from long range, resulting to scoring the game’s first 15 points and establishing a 23-2 cushion midway through the opening quarter.
The Altas’ emerging Big Three spearheaded the onslaught.
Thompson tallied 26 points, embellished by three triples and a perfect 8-of-8 clip from inside the arc. Arboleda knocked in five triples of his own on the way to flirting with a triple-double of 19 points, 11 boards, and seven assists, while Baloria chipped in 18 points, eight boards, two assists, and one steal.
Not to be outdone, the Stags’ own triple threat of Jamil Ortuoste, Bradwyn Guinto, and Jovit dela Cruz shone in the second half where the Recto-based squad turned the game around momentarily.
The Stags’ other star, CJ Perez, who came in averaging 24.5 points, was held to eight points this time after being hobbled by foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul in the second quarter.
Ortuoste scored all but two of his 22 points in the last three quarters, including six straight in a stretch midway through the final frame where the Stags completely erased the huge deficit and even led by six points, the last at 79-73.
That, however, set the stage for the Altas’ own comeback as they scored the game’s last nine points to preserve the victory.
UPHSD 82 – Thompson 26, Arboleda 19, Baloria 18, Alano 6, Dizon 5, Dagangon 5, Gallardo 3, Oliveria 0, Bantayan 0, Sadiwa 0, Jolangcob 0
SSC 79 – Ortuoste 22, Guinto 18, Dela Cruz 16, Perez 8, Fabian 4, Aquino 4, Balucanag 3, Calisaan 2, Yong 2, Costelo 0
Quarterscores: 31-13, 47-29, 61-59, 82-79