MANILA, Philippines – The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tiger Cubs clinched the last Final 4 spot after a grueling 73-72 overtime victory over the gutsy Adamson University (AdU) Baby Falcons at the Ateneo Blue Eagle Gym on Wednesday, February 14.
Newly-minted Juniors MVP CJ Cansino backed up his new title by going unconscious in the extra period, scoring 6 of his team’s 10 OT points. He played through 43 of the game’s 45 minutes and fought back late-game cramps to finally will his team to the playoffs.
UST actually led by as many as 11 in the first half and ended it with a 9-point lead, 32-23. However, the Baby Falcons rallied off the back of their star trio Joem Sabandal and Doria brothers Andrey and Adam. By the end of the third, Adamson successfully got to within 3 points of UST, 44-47.
The Falcons used this momentum to soar ahead of the Cubs early in the final frame, 51-49, their first lead since the game’s first minute. After a few lead changes by way of gritty, physical play from both sides, Adamson emerged with a small 59-57 lead with 3 minutes left.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, Kobe Palencia decided to stay true to his name. He caught the AdU defense off-guard with a long pull-up triple and put UST ahead by one, 60-59. Then after a Cansino free-throw, Palencia called for isolation and drove hard for the bank layup and the 4-point lead, 63-59, with a minute remaining. However, the Cubs let Sabandal close them out with a tie, 63-all, after a critical fumble and holding foul for the penalty free-throws.
In the overtime period, Cansino’s takeover gave them a large 7-point lead, 71-64, off back-to-back driving buckets. Yet still, the Falcons managed to get back within one, 72-73, with less than 20 seconds remaining in OT. However, they spaced out when it mattered most, as Adam Doria dribbled out the clock as the UST bench erupted to the court in celebration.
Head coach Christopher Cantonjos said nothing but praises for his team after the game.
“[After] this game, deserve ng mga bata ang respect,” he said. “From the start, no one believed na aabot kami ng Final 4. Deserve nila 'tong panalo. Yung puso talaga, lumabas ‘yung puso.”
("After this game, the kids deserve respect. From the start, no one believed we'd reach the Final 4. They deserve this win. They gave their hearts out.")
Regarding Cansino’s game-winning performance, Cantonjos expected nothing less from his MVP. “Expected na natin ‘yan,” he said. “[Kung] ikaw ‘yung MVP, kailangan mong mag-take charge.” ("That's expected of him. If you're the MVP, you have to take charge.")
He added, “Sabi ko sa kanya, tapos na ‘yung MVP [awarding]. Ngayon ipakita mo.” ("I told him, the MVP awarding is done. Now prove it.")
And prove his worth, he did. In 43 minutes, Cansino stuffed the statsheet with a game-high 24 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and a steal on 8/15 (53%) shooting. Kobe Palencia backed him up with a Kobe-esque 15 points, 7 of them coming in the clutch.
For the Falcons, Sabandal gave his all with a near-triple-double of 20 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. The Doria brothers also came to play and combined for 27 points in their last effort for the season.
The defending champion Far Eastern University-Diliman (FEU) Baby Tamaraws now get to face UST once again in the first match of the stepladder finals format on Saturday, February 17, still in the Ateneo Blue Eagle Gym.
UST (73) – Cansino 24, Palencia 15, Lina 12, Baquial 7, Manabat 6, Villapando 3, Benzonan 2, Estrella 2, Narvasa 2, Relucio 0, Dolendo 0, Anunciacion 0, Dela Cruz 0.
AdU (72) – Sabandal 20, Doria An. 16, Doria Ad. 11, Hanapi 9, Santos 9, Manlapaz 7, Prodigo 0, Canoy 0, Baculio.
Quarter Scores: 16-14, 32-23, 47-44, 63-63, (73-72).