Dela Cruz rues failure to execute in endgame doomed UST
MANILA, Philippines – As expected, the UAAP Season 78 championship was decided in the last several possessions. And it was the UST Growling Tigers who fell short.
UST head coach Bong Dela Cruz rued his team’s failure to execute in the end as the FEU Tamaraws charged to their 20th UAAP men’s basketball title after a hard-fought, tightly-contested game 3 Wednesday, December 2.
“FEU executed correctly. We did not execute at the end of the game,” said Dela Cruz in Filipino after the 67-62 defeat at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Tigers squandered a 6-point lead with 3:42 remaining and allowed Roger Pogoy to bury the go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the key, 61-60.
Mike Tolomia followed that up with a breakaway lay-up off a steal to make it a 3-point game with over a minute remaining.
UST blew a couple of chances to come back, unable to properly execute with Karim Abdul even committing a traveling violation.
“It’s because of FEU’s defense. Their defense got better,” Dela Cruz explained the reason they struggled with execution. “The nerves are always there. But I told them to just enjoy everything we do in these finals.” (IN PHOTOS: FEU Tamaraws win UAAP Season 78 title)
Ed Daquioag led the Tigers with 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 6 turnovers. He also scored 10 in the 4th quarter that helped UST regain the lead. Abdul added 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 turnovers.
Glaringly missing is the offense of team captain and star gunner Kevin Ferrer. The graduating swingman attempted only 7 shots, and made two of them, to finish with just 6 points to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers in 39 minutes. (READ: UAAP title a 'breakthrough' for FEU basketball, says Racela)
“They stayed home on Kevin Ferrer. They really denied Kevin,” said Dela Cruz, still proud of Ferrer – who was hailed by season MVP Kiefer Ravena as his co-MVP – for providing invaluable leadership to the Tigers.
“Kevin Ferrer is my MVP. You saw what he did for this team. He led this team in the finals. He’s really the reason for this,” the coach said, grateful for Ferrer’s epic game 2 explosion that was responsible for the rubber match.
“It was tough defense from FEU, they really stuck to him. Kevin was there still, though not in points, but he was there to rebound, to defend.”
“He’s there to lead the team. We never expected he would replicate what he did last game, but as a leader, he led the team,” Dela Cruz said of Ferrer, who was seen during lulls in the game huddling his teammates and communicating with them. (READ: No regrets for UST's Ferrer despite UAAP finals fallout)
Despite UST coming so close, only to fall short once again for the 3rd time in 4 years, Dela Cruz summed up his second season with the Tigers as “very good.”
“Nobody expected anything from us. Even you guys did not expect us to reach game 3, not even the Final Four. But the players, the family, we had a goal and we overachieved. We just fell short.” (READ: FEU coach Racela saw UST coming when no one else did)
Dela Cruz and his coaching staff face a big challenge next year without the graduating veteran core of Ferrer, Karim Abdul, Ed Daquioag and Jamil Sheriff. But like last year, Dela Cruz will prepare as early as possible and find players to develop from team B or through recruitment.
He also expects rookie Marvin Lee to step up as a leader as early as next year. Lee had some major finals burn with 9 points, 5, rebounds and 2 assists, including a couple of big baskets, in almost 25 minutes during game 3.
“Hopefully he becomes one of the leaders because we will have a younger line-up next year.” – Rappler.com