UAAP Finals heartbreak continues for UST Tigers

MANILA, Philippines – Is University of Santo Tomas fated not to win a UAAP championship? That's the question that the Growling Tigers, and their fans, must be asking after suffering another heartbreak at the hands of the FEU Tamaraws.

The Tigers’ shooting, so superb in Game Two, went cold in Game 3. Three points were scored by UST in the last 3 minutes against Far Eastern University’s 14 points in the title-deciding match at Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday, December 2.

Gallant defense by Mac Belo, who sprinted to his back court to block a layup by Ed Daquioag with 15 seconds left and preserve a 65-62 lead for the Tamaraws. The final score, 67-62, clinching FEU’s 20th championship, spanning from the UAAP’s first cage title contest in 1938. 

Kevin Ferrer, whose red-hot shooting sent UST to a deciding match, finished with only 6 points. 

On Tuesday, at the Christmas party of the legendary Yco Painters, the UAAP finals match was the main fare at the lunch table. 

Ed Roque, the former Olympian who was the Painters’ defensive star, intoned: ”Kevin Ferrer is a marked man. He will find it tough in Game 3.” Ramon Belmonte, who with the late Renato Reyes formed the other half of UST’s dreaded frontline in the 1960s, chimed in, ”You better believe ‘Kabayo’ (Roque’s Yco nickname).” 

Elias Tolentino, the Painters’ deadly shooter, added: "Maganda ang pulso niya (His shooting touch was so good. But the two teams are even. The fourth quarter will decide matters.” 

While not on the same level as Edgar Bilasano’s blackout with 24 seconds left in UST’s 1980 UAAP clash against FEU, Karim Abdul’s passing error with 2.1 seconds left on the shot clock but 21.7 seconds to go virtually decided the game. That wasted UST’s big 14-0 spurt that gave UST a 57-51 lead with 6:03 left. 

“Abdul should have passed to Ferrer who was open,” said Orly Castelo, the Yco and San Miguel center who later coached San Sebastian and San Beda, in a phone interview with Rappler.

In the end, Turo Valenzona’s words that FEU has never lost to UST in a UAAP title match since he started playing for them as a high school find in 1960 and later coached them, rang true. Former senator Freddie Webb, the Painters’ ex-spitfire, told Tessa Jazmines of BusinessMirror at the other end of the table that FEU’s depth will be the key. 

Why does UST falter in these bone-crunching UAAP matches? Do expectations and those cheers slow down their limbs and legs? Or did the Tams just want it more than the Tigers? 

Toughened by their road to the finals, the Tams dug deep into their reserves of mental energy to escape defeat. Mac Belo converted that off-balance jumper that shoved Ateneo out of the UAAP finals. Roger Pogoy, the Cebuano hotshot, carried FEU on his back in the fourth quarter as UST failed to sustain the lead. 

To those superstars who failed to lift UST when the title was on the line: Danny Florencio vs Robert Jaworski’s UE, Bogs Adornado against UE, Edmund Yee, Frank Natividad and Ed Cordero vs FEU’s Arturo Cristobal and Anthony Williams,  Pido Jarencio vs Allan Caidic’s UE, a new name is added – Kevin Ferrer, whose season ended after a brief, bright flash. 

Meanwhile, on Facebook, tears literally flowed from UST alumni in news offices, their evenings spoiled by another basketball heartbreak.