MANILA, Philippines – La Salle nearly blew it in the endgame but the Green Archers survived the UST Tigers' late surge to escape with an 80-79 decision to strengthen their UAAP Season 82 Final Four bid in men's basketball at the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, October 23.
La Salle held a nine-point advantage, 80-71, in the final 29 seconds, but UST nearly turned it around behind star Rhenz Abando's scoring explosion.
After a pair of buckets from both ends, Abando got open for back-to-back desperation threes, in the final 12 ticks of regulation to get UST within 3, 77-80.
Abando then stole the rock off the La Salle inbound, but his transition shot was called a long two, 79-80, after he stepped on the line off the break in the dying seconds.
Aljun Melecio then bounced the ball off a UST player's back in the last 1.5 ticks to run off the clock for the nail-biting win.
With La Salle securing the crucial victory, the Archers remained in the hunt for a twice-to-beat advantage with a 6-6 card while the Tigers weakened their grip as they slid to 7-6.
"It was a hard-fought win," said La Salle stalwart Jamie Malonzo after Abando's final shot – a potential game-tying three – was ruled as a long two.
Malonzo led the way with 23 points on an 8-of-13 shooting highlighted by 3 dunks, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists.
Melecio added 18 markers and 6 dimes while Baltazar chipped in a 14-point, 11-board double-double.
"As you know, the standings are really tight, and we're happy that we kind of responded well, the players responded with urgency today," said La Salle coach Gian Nazario.
Abando paced the failed UST comeback attempt with 19 points in as many minutes on the floor with 4 boards and 4-of-8 shots from deep.
Soulemane Chabi Yo churned out a 17-marker, 17-rebound double-double as the Tigers fell short of their first attempt to secure a Final Four seat.
After a neck-and-neck first half, the Archers seized momentum away from the Tigers as they took a 53-51 lead midway through the 3rd quarter off a steal and score by Melecio.
La Salle then played lockdown defense on UST as they capped off a 12-2 run at the 31-second mark with a Malonzo reverse jam off another steal for a 63-54 advantage.
The one-and-done forward then extended the lead to 12, 69-57, with 7:14 left in the final frame off a crushing putback jam from the Encho Serrano miss.
Although Melecio kept the Tigers at bay with a pull-up trey midway through the quarter, 72-61, UST fired off a 7-2 response to inch within 6, 68-74, after a hop-step layup by Chabi Yo at the 3:55 mark.
Unfazed by the ongoing comeback, Justine Baltazar then dropped two quick buckets to push the lead back to 10, 78-68, with a little over 3 minutes left in regulation.
After a pair of buckets from both ends, Abando got open for a three, 74-80, with just 28.6 ticks left, sparking a run that fell just narrowly short.
La Salle 80 – Malonzo 23, Melecio 18, Baltazar 14, Bates 10, Hill 5, Manuel 5, Caracut 2, Serrano 2, Bartlett 1, Lojera 0.
UST 79 – Abando 19, Chabi Yo 17, Cansino 9, Bataller 6, Subido 6, Paraiso 5, Huang 4, Nonoy 4, Ando 3, Concepcion 3, Cuajao 3, Bordeos 0.
Quarters: 19-24, 37-44, 63-57, 80-79.