MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The defending champions have been eliminated.
Led by a fantastic effort on the defensive end, the UST Growling Tigers shut down the National University Bulldogs in their Final Four duel and advanced to the finals of UAAP Season 78, 64-55, on Sunday, November 22, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It was a classic, all-around beat down by the top overall seed, which relied on balanced scoring from their key veterans and suffocating pressure on the other end to make it to the finals for the third time in the last 4 years.
To get their first championship in 9 years, the Growling Tigers will have to win a best-of-3 series against the FEU Tamaraws - the team that NU defeated in last year's finals to win the title. Their series begins on Wednesday, November 25.
Game 1 of the finals is on Wednesday, November 25.
Louie Vigil was all over the place on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, two steals, and two blocks. Team leader Kevin Ferrer put up 11 points and 7 boards, while Ed Daquioag accounted for 8 points and 8 rebounds.
“Yung mga players, talagang linabas nila yung puso ngayon eh,” said second-year head coach Bong Dela Cruz, whose team will go for their 19th ever UAAP title.
(The players really showed their heart today.)
“Ginawa lang namin, basta one on one defense lang. Sinong tumapat sakanila, dumepensa lang nang maayos.”
The Growling Tigers limited the Bulldogs to 27% shooting from the field and a 5-of-27 display from downtown. NU also committed 15 turnovers, leading to 13 UST points.
(What we did was play one on one defense. Whoever had an assignment, they guarded well.)
In his last ever UAAP game, NU captain Gelo Alolino misfired all over the field, going 1-of-17 from the floor for just 6 points. Nico Javelona led the Bulldogs with 17 points and 7 boards, while last year’s Finals MVP Alfred Aroga was limited to just 7 points but did grab 15 boards.
“I really tried to focus much more on defense and not force it so much on offense,” Abdul talked about guarding Aroga, whose Bulldogs failed to score more than 12 points in 3 of the 4 quarters.
The game seemed out of hand with 3:33 to go when an errand pass by Javelona resulted to a breakaway layup by Vigil, 52-41, with 3:33 to go.
The Bulldogs were able to make a contest out of it thanks to the “hack-a-Shaq” technique, using it on inconsistent free throw shooter Jan Sheriff.
Sheriff, who went a total 4-of-12 from the line, opened the doors for NU to make a comeback with his missed charities, as the Bulldogs cut the lead to 58-52 with 1:03 to go following Javelona’s own free throws.
Unfortunately for the now former defending champions, Vigil made his free throws when they hacked him on the next play. After which, Alolino missed from downtown, opening the way for Vigil to be fouled again and extend his team’s lead to 61-52.
“On my part, I have to do a better job on making my free throw shots. It’s a psychological thing,” Sheriff said about his free throw shooting woes.
A big 3 by Javelona made it a 6-point game with 38 seconds left. NU then fouled Sheriff again, but he split his charities to make it a 62-55 game. On the next possessions, Javelona missed a 3-ball and Marvin Lee was fouled. The UST rookie proceeded to hit both charities, 64-55, to essentially seal the win with 27 seconds left.
As the final buzzer sounded, the legion of UST fans put their hands up in the hair, circled it in simultaneous fashion, and sang to the chants of “GO USTE!” Some fans atop the bleachers lifted up their shirts, the letters of “GO USTE” also painted on their stomachs.
“Mag celebrate kami (we’ll celebrate) tonight then tomorrow, back to preparation,” Dela Cruz said.
UST (64): Vigil 19, Ferrer 11, Sheriff 10, Daquioag 8, Abdul 6, Bonleon 5, Lee 5, Lao 0, Faundo 0
NU (55): Javelona 18, Alejandro 8, Aroga 7, Diputado 7, Alolino 6, Javillonar 5, Neypes 3, Celda 2, Abatayo 0, Salim 0, Morido 0
Quarter scores: 15-12, 30-20, 44-32, 64-55. – Rappler.com