MANILA, Philippines – In a battle of undefeated teams, the UST Growling Tigers weathered a late rally to stun the UP Fighting Maroons, 85-69, and grab the early 2-0 lead in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament at the Araneta Coliseum on Saturday, September 7.
The UST guards – rookie hotshot Mark Nonoy and veteran Renzo Subido – took charge in the final stretch as the Tigers held off the comeback bid of last year's runner-up with a blistering 11-0 closeout.
After a quiet debut last Wednesday, Nonoy proved his worth to finish with 16 points on a 6-of-13 shooting clip on top of 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
While the Tigers grabbed the solo top spot, the Maroons slipped to 1-1.
Soulemane Chabi Yo, a 6-foot-6 Beninese, also delivered a big game for the Tigers with 18 points, 18 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, and 1 block.
Subido finished with 13 points, highlighted by a 3-of-6 clip from beyond the arc, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists
UST coach Aldin Ayo, though, said it's too early to tag the Tigers as a title contender.
"Hindi ko iniisip na statement [game] kasi siguro on paper, very talented talaga yung UP. Pero lahat naman napaghahandaan. Isang laro lang naman ito, meron pang dose pa," said Ayo, who hopes to steer the Tigers to another upset against defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles on Wednesday.
(I'm not thinking of this as a statement game maybe because on paper, UP is really very talented. You just prepare for anything. And this is just one game, there's 12 more.)
After being down by as many as 14 points in the first half, the stacked Maroons stormed all the way back to tie up the game 46-all early in the 3rd off a putback from reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie.
However, the Tigers turned the tide yet again in their favor early in the payoff period as they mustered an eight-point lead, 67-59, off back-to-back buckets from lanky forward Rhenz Abando.
UP could not get nearer than 5 points as Nonoy repeatedly left dazed defenders in the rearview mirror with his nifty crossovers and acrobatic layups.
The rookie guard from Negros Occidental then shut the door on the Maroons for good with a clutch triple in the last 2 minutes to clinch a double-digit lead, 79-69.
His veteran counterpart Subido then sank two more long bomb for good measure in the next two possession.
Akhuetie collected 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists for UP, which missed the services of injured Kobe Paras anew.
Opening-game hero Javi Gomez de Liaño posted 15 points and 8 boards, while Jaydee Tungcab had 11 points in the losing cause.
UST 85 – Chabi Yo 18, Nonoy 16, Subido 13, Abando 12, Ando 10, Huang 9, Paraiso 6, Cansino 1, Bataller 0, Concepcion 0, Cosejo 0, Cuajao 0.
UP 69 – Akhuetie 19, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 15, Tungcab 11, Murrell 6, Ju. Gomez de Liaño 5, Manzo 5, Rivero 4, Webb 4, Gozum 0, Jaboneta 0, Mantilla 0, Prado 0, Spencer 0.
Quarters: 19-15, 44-37, 63-58, 85-69.