UST motivated to avoid same letdown from past two finals appearances

MANILA, Philippines – The UST Growling Tigers have been one of the most successful teams in the UAAP over the past few years, but after falling to the FEU Tamaraws in game one of the UAAP Finals on Wednesday, November 25, they’re now one step closer to losing in the title round for the third time in 4 years.

In 2012, UST fell to the 5-peat seeking Ateneo Blue Eagles in two games, and a year later, fell to the DLSU Green Archers in 3 games. On both occasions, Growling Tigers head coach Bong Dela Cruz (then an assistant), plus veterans Kevin Ferrer, Karim Abdul, and Ed Daquioag were already with UST.

Syempre may konting motivation sa mga bata,” Dela Cruz told the media after game one.

(Of course, there’s some motivation in the kids.)

Syempre kailagan ba, on the third time, mararanasan natin yung sakit? Ayan lang. Sabi ko lang sakanila, syempre, today medyo masama ang loob. Tomorrow kailangan happy na kami sa practice.”

(Of course, do we need to suffer the same misery a third time? I just told them, we may feel bad now, but tomorrow, we need to be happy in practice.)

History is both for and against UST in their current predicament. 

According to UAAP statistical Pong Ducanes:

Since the Final Four era started, 15 of the 21 (71%) teams who won game one of the best-of-3 finals went on to win the championship. 

But of the 6 times it hasn’t happened, UST has been responsible thrice: in Seasons 57, 58, and 69.

As a matter of fact, UST’s last title in 2006 was won after those Growling Tigers fell to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in game one (on a Doug Kramer game-winner).

Coincidentally, the last team to blow a 1-0 lead in the finals are the same opponents UST faces this year in FEU, who dropped games two and 3 to National University last season.

“We keep on fighting,” said Dela Cruz, whose team rallied from a 14-point deficit despite being out-rebounded, 56-22.

Nanduon yun puso mag laro. Kahit down kami by [14], talagang lumaban parin yung mga bata. Lumaban kami para sa family.”

(The heart is there during the game. Even if we were down by 14, the boys kept on fighting. They kept fighting for the family.)

Alam ko nga masyado kaming out-rebounded. Very aggressive sila today. Hindi namin agad nakarecover duon sa aggressiveness nila. Saturday (game two), dapat double namin aggressiveness.”

(I know we were too out-rebounded. Our aggressiveness needs to double in game two.)

Dela Cruz admitted it seemed like FEU wanted to win more in the first half of game one, resulting to their early lead, but he was happy to see his boys match the Tamaraws’ will in the second half, where they out-scored their opponents 30-28.

Yes. Pinakita nila yan sa first half nung game, but in the third quarter and the fourth quarter, we showed them na nandito kami. We will fight.”

(They showed it in the first half of the game, but in the third and fourth quarters, we made our presence felt.)

Dela Cruz’s mentality to not give up was echoed by his team leader and Mythical 5 member Kevin Ferrer, who spoke to his teammates in the locker room after scoring 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting in game one.

“That’s Kevin Ferrer. Lagi naman. Sabi niya it’s not yet over, kailangan pa namin pakita yung willingness namin, yung puso, para makabalik.” 

(He always does that. He said it’s not over yet, we need to show our will to win, our heart, to bounce back.)