University of Santo Tomas

University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers

UAAP Season 78 Preview: UST Growling Tigers

Head coach: Bong dela Cruz who is in his second year. He also played for Adamson in the UAAP.

Season 77 record: 5-9

Losses: Regie Basibas, Levi dela Cruz, Alfren Gayosa, Kim Lo, Jan Macasaet, Aljon Mariano, Paolo Pe and Raymart Sablan.

Holdovers: Karim Abdul, Ed Daquioag, Jeepy Faundo, Kevin Ferrer, Kent Lao, Sheak Sherriff, Henri Subido and Louie Vigil.

Newcomers: Osama Said Adburasad, Justin AraƱa, Mario Bonleon, Enrique Caunan, Jan Rey Garrido, Zach Huang and Kyle Suarez.

Team breakdown

The Tigers ran into all sorts of problems last season - the departure of studs from the previous years, injuries, poor defense, an even more anemic offense, and adjusting to a new coach. They only had two wins where they finished with a comfortable lead. A few of their wins were squeakers. Their losses were either by five points or much more.

This year, they have bettered themselves, although health is still a key issue. Karim Abdul, who is on his final year, missed a lot of preseason games due to injury. Ditto with Renzo Subido. Coach Bong says his crew is healthy, and that is a relief for the UST faithful, who missed them in action for the most part of the pre-season.

All the more, this is now Kevin Ferrer's team. Last season, he tried to do more by playing leader and doing other things for the team. He even deferred to other teammates as evidenced by his willingness to pass the ball. Sometimes that backfired as he needed to take charge on the court by scoring.

Now, Ferrer is more comfortable now with that role especially with other players to back him up in the scoring chores. Expect him to go out with a bang in his final UAAP season.

Bong dela Cruz also expects a lot from the rapidly improving Kent Lao to pick up from where Aljon Mariano left off in terms of scoring, leadership and rebounding. Lao was integral to their fortunes during the summer.

"He (Lao) makes good decisions with the ball," remarked Dela Cruz. "I like his game intelligence."

They also have another long-range artist in Louie Vigil, who began to show why he was a much ballyhooed player coming out of JRU in high school. He just needs to be consistent.

Ed Daquioag is another player who can create and score for his team. His willingness to attack the basket is crucial as it helps free up Abdul for some dime drops while finding teammates open on the perimeter. Kyle Suarez, who transferred from UP, should also provide the same. It would be interesting to see if he has improved on his jump shot, which was suspect in high school in Ateneo and his one year at UP.

Mario Bonleon adds a lot of scoring and that is an understatement. Sometimes, he forgets that he has teammates and can be unconscious when firing away.  But he should add to their punch.

Zach Huang, one of the many Ateneo de Cebu alums now in the UAAP (there are six at the moment), is a smart player who can only get better as he soaks in his UAAP experience. Even at 6'3", Huang can rebound and play defense.

Another new face is Enrique Caunan, who could be the second coming of Melo Afuang; a utility player who does the dirty work. From all indications during the summer, Coach Bong will tap him from time to time to play the role of defensive stopper and a rebounder.

Jon Sheriff should do what he could do as he was handed the PG slot. He has become a reliable player with a decent midrange jumper and good defensive instincts with a willingness to find an open teammate.

Any dreams of a return to the Final Four or beyond rest on Abdul's broad shoulders. He is someone who can battle NU's Alfred Aroga toe-to-toe. If he can win out on that battle or even neutralize the NU big man, his teammates will have more than a fighting chance to win.

Lineups University of Santo Tomas

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