UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas built a big lead early and never looked back, carving out a 71-62 victory over top-seed National University to force a rubber match for a seat in the UAAP Season 76 men’s basketball finals on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Tigers built several 18-point spreads then withstood a last-ditch Bulldogs rally in the endgame thanks to a clutch three-pointer by Jeric Teng to move one win away from becoming the first fourth-seeded team in the Final Four to advance to the Finals.
The Growling Tigers were hardly threatened after they took off to an early 11-1 lead in the first period as they forced a deciding Final Four game against the twice-to-beat Bulldogs on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Siguro, we started aggressively,” said UST coach Pido Jarencio. “Nakuha namin ang rhythm namin offensively and defensively.”
A UST crowd that came in full force despite the heavy rains on a Sunday afternoon saw its team open leads as big as 18 points against an NU squad that took the top seeding in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
“’Yung mga players, nahiya rin sila sa UST community. ‘Yung dating nila, medyo nag-uuulan, masama ang panahon. Pero nandyan sila. Talagang sixth man sila kaya kami ganado.”
Kevin Ferrer had 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc but his impact was felt on defense, limiting Bobby Ray Parks to only 14 points including just two in the first half.
“Nakikita ko talaga sa mga players ‘yung desire, ‘yung puso at ‘yung pride na kasama nila ang community na nakikipagbakbakan,” Jarencio added.
The Tigers continued to pounce on the Bulldogs' defense, opening a 39-21 lead in the second half on a three-pointer by Ferrer and a layup by Aljon Mariano.
The Bulldogs trimmed the lead back into single digits, 58-63, after scoring 13 straight points. The deficit would have gone smaller after Emmanuel Mbe scored on a dunk but the tide turned for UST when Teng buried a triple, 66-58.
Aljon Mariano and Clark Bautista each had 12 markers for the Tigers.
Joshua Alolino had 17 points for the Bulldogs, who also saw Mbe held to eight points although the NU starting center did grab nine rebounds and swat away four enemy shots.
NU lost to UST for the first time this season after sweeping its regular season meetings.
UST (71) – Ferrer 14, Mariano 12, Bautista 12, Teng 8, Abdul 7, Sheriff 6, Pe 6, Lo 2, Lao 2, Daquioag 2.
NU (62) – Alolino 17, Parks 14, Rono 8, Mbe 8, Villamor 5, Khobuntin 5, Porter 3, Alejandro 2, Rosario 0, Javillonar 0, Javellona 0.
Quarterscores: 19-8; 39-23; 54-44; 71-62