UNIVERSITY of Sto. Tomas held off Far Eastern University, 76-65, on Saturday at Smart Araneta Coliseum to reach the UAAP Season 82 women's basketball finals.
UST battles six-peat-seeking and unbeaten National University, with Game One of the best-of-three finals set on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
"We waited for three years for this to happen," said coach Haydee Ong as the Tigresses earned their first trip to the finals since winning the UAAP Season 69 championship in 2006 under coach Peque Tan.
"The program has no shortcut. You have to work for it, and finally, we're in the finals. This is a tribute to the Thomasian community and to everyone who supported us along the way."
The Golden Tigresses erected a 22-point halftime lead, 43-21, but that lead soon got trimmed to five, 70-65, after a Choy Bahuyan trey in the last 2:20.
UST needed crucial stops late, none bigger than Eka Soriano's interception of Bahuyan's pass to Fatima Quiapo in the final minute as Soriano and Grace Irebu put the game away at the charity stripe.
Irebu, who is set to be feted with the Season MVP award for the second straight season, powered the Golden Tigresses with 28 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
"This game was very important for us. We didn't play well during the first game, but we made sure to start strong and finish strong in this game. The game was physical, but we did not give up. We executed inside the court," said the Congolese center.
Lon Rivera also stepped up with 13 points and five boards, as Soriano, who got ejected the last game, bounced back with 11 points, four rebounds and two steals.
No. 2 seed UST rebounded after being beaten 48-46 by the Lady Tamaraws on Wednesday.
Valerie Mamaril fought valiantly for FEU, leading its second half rally with 23 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Bahuyan got 12 points and six rebounds, Princess Jumuad had a double-double of 11 points and 11 boards, and Castro was limited to just nine points, six rebounds, and two blocks.
UST 76 - Irebu 28, Rivera 13, Soriano 11, Portillo 8, Tacatac 6, Ferrer 4, Panti 4, Callangan 2, Gandalla 0, Gonzales 0, Javier 0.
FEU 65 - Mamaril 23, Bahuyan 12, Jumuad 11, Castro 9, Quiapo 6, Antiola 2, Vidal 2, Abat 0, Adriano 0, Bastatas 0, Delos Santos 0, Pacia 0.
Quarterscores: 14-11; 43-21; 59-45; 76-65.