MANILA, Philippines - The UST Growling Tigers bucked their ice-cold start to the game and preyed on the inexperienced UP Fighting Maroons for a 73-57 win in the men's basketball tournament of UAAP Season 77 on Saturday, August 2 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Maroons had last year's finalists right where they wanted them with 4:31 left in the first half after Henry Asilum knocked down a trey to give UP an 11-point 35-24 lead.
But UST steadily wriggled free from UP's grasp with a 9-2 spurt capped by a Louie Vigil three-pointer to end the first half down only 39-36.
"Siguro yung shooting namin nung first 3 quarters hindi nag-click," UST head coach Bong Dela Cruz explained what the Tigers missed in the first half. UST shot 43% for the first 20 minutes while UP was more effective at 53%.
"Tinyaga lang namin because of our practice. We practiced hard going into this game. Nagpay-off nung fourth quarter."
(Perhaps our shooting for the first 3 quarters was not clicking. We just gutted it out because of our practice. We practiced hard going into this game. It paid off in the fourth quarter.)
Vigil played the longest in this game at 32 minutes and produced 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and an assist. He shot 3-of-8 from three-point range as well.
Karim Abdul led all Tigers with 18 markers and 8 boards while Aljon Mariano made his presence felt with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 dishes to his teammates.
UST returned to their habit from Season 75 of starting slow and cold before revving up the engine in the final frame to ultimately come away with the win.
The first half of this game was an accurate summary of everything UST had been in their first 3 games of the season - disorganized, sloppy, and lacking a sense of urgency.
In contrast, the second half saw the Tigers upping their level of play and injecting more energy and precision in their executions.
The Tigers had their first taste of the lead since UP's 11-point lead midway in the third on a Vigil three-pointer, 46-45, on their way to entering the fourth with a 53-50 lead.
UST owned the fourth period in every aspect, displaying the kind of basketball that's expected of them.
Diego Dario gave UP some hope when he scooped up a shot to give his team a 54-53 lead with 7:42 to play. Unfortunately, that would be the last time UP would score until the dying seconds of the game as UST dropped 20 straight points on their Diliman counterparts, erecting a 73-54 lead with under a minute left to play.
The Espanya-based crew slowly but surely gained confidence in their shots and their defense, pressuring the Maroons' ball handlers and attacking the rim at will.
The Maroons were out-rebounded once again in this game, 42-33, and were behind in assists, 17-11. They also had 11 of their 21 turnovers in the second half, while UST had only 5 miscues for the last two quarters after registering 11 in the first half.
Dela Cruz emphasized UST's primary deficiency so far.
"Pina-practice namin yung team defense namin. Doon kami mahina. Kailangan namin ngayon ay teamwork. Ngayon pa lang medyo gumaganda yung takbo namin."
(We are practicing our team defense. That's where we are weak. We need teamwork now. We've just started getting the hang of our rhythm.)
Kevin Ferrer, who had his left ankle treated in the third and was saddled with foul trouble, was smiling from ear to ear with 3:11 remaining after he powered through for a bucket, 66-54.
He chipped in 9 markers, 8 boards and 3 assists.
On the side of UP, Dave Moralde led the way with 15 points, 5 rebounds and two assists. Rey Gallarza and Asilum contributed 10 markers apiece.
The loss is UP's 26th straight defeat since Season 75 and it is also their 15th straight loss to the Growling Tigers. According to UAAP Chief Statistician Pong Ducanes, it is the longest active winning streak of one team over another in the UAAP.
UP is still winless so far at 0-5, while UST hiked their record to 3-1. The Tigers have now won three straight games after losing to NU in their first outing.
UST (73): Abdul 18, Vigil 17, Mariano 10, Ferrer 9, Daquioag 7, Subido 5, Sheriff 4, Lao 2, Gayosa 1, Basibas 0, Dela Cruz 0, Lo 0, Macasaet 0, Pe 0, Sablan 0.
UP (57): Moralde 15, Asilum 10, Gallarza 10, Reyes 8, Lao 6, Amar 5, Dario 2, Vito 1, Gingerich 0, Juruena 0, Harris 0.
Quarter scores: 14-19, 36-39, 53-50, 73-57.