Tigers pounce on Bulldogs

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - University of Santo Tomas pulled off what only a few fourth-ranked teams managed to do the last 20 years, forcing a do-or-die game against a top seed for a finals slot with a 71-62 victory over National U yesterday in the UAAP Season 76 Final Four at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Playing with a lot of urgency and ferocity, the Tigers came out roaring and put the Bulldogs on the defensive end majority of the way then turned to Jeric Teng and Aljon Mariano for the coup de grace that practically negated NU’s twice-to-beat advantage in the semis.

The Tigers were only the fourth No. 4 seed since 1993 to stretch the No. 1 team into a knockout match for a seat in the championship. It was previously done by University of the Philippines in Season 60, UST the following year and La Salle in Season 66. None, however, went all the way to the finale.

“Ang pasok namin kanina, nothing to lose. Yung pressure nasa kanila. Yung No.4 can beat No. 1 and yung problema sa No. 1, kailangan ma-maintain nila na nasa No. 1; kami naman number four na nag-aaspire mag-No. 1 (We came into the game with nothing to lose; the pressure was on NU. We know the No. 4 can beat the No. 1 and as No. 4, we aspire to be No. 1),” said UST coach Pido Jarencio.

“Ang advantage lang siguro namin ay ang suporta ng sixth man, ng buong UST community na andito kahit umuulan. Sila dahilan kaya ganado, inspired kami. Nakikita ko sa mga bata yung desire, puso, at pride, kasama ang community na nakikipagbakbakan (We owe it to our sixth man – the UST community – too. They’re the source of the players’ inspired play and desire to win this one),” he added.

The Tigers and the Bulldogs will go at it again on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Kevin Ferrer led UST’s charge with 14 points laced by four triples. But what’s more important was his defense against two-time MVP Bobby Ray Parks Jr., who coughed up 14 in a game where he also hurt his left hand.

“Nagiging challenge sa akin yung depensahan ang top player ng NU, yung MVP. Ayokong magpatalo sa kanya (I take it as a challenge to defend and try to stop the top player and MVP of NU),” said Ferrer, who also had five rebounds and a steal.

The Tigers set the tone for the upset with a sizzling 11-1 start and seized huge leads that reached as high as 18, at 63-45 early in the fourth. NU fiercely fought back behind Joshua Alolino (17 points) and Emmanuel Mbe (14) and got to within 58-63 before a crucial missed dunk by Mbe swayed the momentum back to the Tigers.

Jeric Teng knocked in a trey and then Mariano made good on his four trips to the stripe down the stretch to secure the victory.

“Yung momentum pumunta sa kanila kaya meron silang run na medyo tinamad kami saka breaks of the game yung miss ni Mbe na dunk. Nagpapasalamat ako kay Mbe na na-miss niya yun (The momentum went their way after we took an 18-point lead but breaks went our way, especially with that missed dunk by Mbe),” said Jarencio.

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