Tired of heartaches, Tigers go for elusive UAAP crown

The Growling Tigers gather in a huddle during a timeout. | Efigenio Toledo IV/Philstar.com File

MANILA, Philippines - Back in April 2015, the UST Growling Tigers looked nothing near special.

Roughly seven months later, they still look the same. Only, Karim Abdul had cornrows; Kevin Ferrer looked stockier; Louie  Vigil had a neater haircut; Ed Daquioag sported a more mature demeanor.

Heck, the way they run plays was eerily similar to what they did the last three years. The way they carried themselves through games remained unchanged: gritty, unrelenting and unwavering.

"Pamilya." It was a word passed through by head coach Segundo "Bong" dela Cruz III and the rest of the Tiger pack during trainings. It felt like a club password. It resonated like play call. It was something - like their bond - that barely changed through the years.

Ferrer mentioned the same exact words seven months ago. He did so, again, after eliminating the National University Bulldogs in their Final Four matchup to tow UST back to the finals.

"Wala akong game plan," Ferrer told Philstar.com. "Pero 'yung pamilya ko. 'Yung team ko, may game plan against them."

Dela Cruz, too, had little to reveal to the members of the media when nudged into commenting on their finals opponent the FEU Tamaraws.

Ferrer will be facing familiar foes in the Tams' Russell Escoto and Mike Tolomia, whom he played with in the juniors national basketball team.

On the other hand, it will be Dela Cruz's first time to commandeer the Tigers under intense pressure of winning it all.

"Mag-prepare kami sa practice and tignan natin yung outcome ng game," Dela Cruz said.

Fast forward today, the UST Growling Tigers are on the verge of putting an exclamation mark on what could be their best finish in nine years. This is their third UAAP Finals appearance in four years. They could either tie the Tamaraws in having most championship hardwares (19) or be a bridesmaid once again.

Fighting for the championship won't be something new for Ferrer, Abdul, Vigil, Daquioag, and Jamil Sheriff. They've done this many times before. They may have failed, but this pack - this family - which has seen enough heart breaks, with a league-leading finish of 11-3, and an elimination-round mastery of the FEU, makes it look they've got it all figured out this time.

They say the more things change, the more things stay the same. It could be another heartbreak year for the Tigers.

Or it could finally be another 2006.

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