Red hot Tigers. Comeback kings.

The first round of basketball in UAAP Season 75 has come to an end, and as many people know right now. The UST Growling Tigers finished the 1st round in 1st place at 6-1. Though they are tied with the Ateneo Blue Eagles who also finished the 1st round at 6-1, the Tigers are on top by virtue of their 71-70 victory against the Blue Eagles last July 19. The Tigers’ only defeat in the first round came at the hands of the FEU Tamaraws on opening day last July 14, 72-73 on a RR Garcia layup off the steal. But after that setback, they went on a tear and won the last six games of the 1st round.

They are also dubbed the “Comeback Team” of the UAAP, as most of their victories came off  large deficits. In the game against the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the Tigers trailed by as many as 19 points in the 1st half, but the Tigers led by returning forward Aljon Mariano came alive in the 3rd quarter and manage to pull off the victory and snap a 12 game losing streak against the Eagles dating back from 2007. Then in the game against the NU Bulldogs, the Tigers trailed by as many as 14 points, but the Tigers led by Jeric Teng were able to grabe a 77-71 victory over the Bulldogs. Then in the final game of the first round against Adamson Soaring Falcons, the Tigers struggled and trailed by as many as 9 thanks in part to the Faclons’ suffocating defense, and were down by 6, 54-60 with 3:22 left in the game. But the Tigers came back on a basket by sophomore Kevin Ferrer, a three by veteran point guard Jeric Fortuna and a basket by big man Karim Abdul to escape with a 61-60 victory over the Falcons.

Of all the games in the first round, there was one game that I was able to watch live at the venue, and that was the game against the De La Salle Green Archers on August 4 at the new Mall of Asia Arena which featured the battle of the Teng brothers. As UST’s Jeric faced off against his younger brother DLSU’s Jeron. The game was a treat, both teams battled neck-to-neck in the 1st half. UST made their run in the 3rd quarter on Clark Bautista’s triples to give them a 56-48 lead at the end of 3. But La Salle made their run in the 4th taking a 71-69 lead against the Tigers in the final moments of the 4th, but Aljon Mariano scored a basket which tied the game at 71. La Salle’s veteran point guard L.A. Revilla scored a basket at the buzzer, but the replay showed that his shot came after time expired. So the game went into overtime and once again both teams were neck-to-neck. With the game tied at 80, UST had a chance to win but they failed to do so. So the game went into another overtime period. La Salle scored first on a Revilla jumper, but Mariano responded with 2 baskets to give them a 84-82 lead. The Archers had two chances, the first one was Yutien Andrada inside shot which was blocked by Karim Abdul, and the second one was Revilla’s last second three which came up short as the Tigers held on for the win 84-82 in double-overtime.

Photo ©Karl Carandang
This season is a breakout year for the 2nd year center out of Cameroon Karim Abdul, who has improved his game from last year as he is averaging 17.6 PPG (which is 2nd best in the UAAP), a league-leading 13.6 RPG, 1.6 steals per game (which is 6th best in the UAAP) and 1.6 blocks per game (which is also 6th best in the UAAP). Aside from Abdul, other players have stepped up as well from the likes of veteran guard Jeric Teng who in the 4 games he played before sitting out the last three games with an injury averaging 16 PPG (which is 6th best in the UAAP) and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 48% from 3 point range, returning forward Aljon Mariano who is averaging 12 PPG and 6.7 rebounds per game, and veteran point guard Jeric Fortuna who has been orchestrating the offense for the Tigers averaging a league-leading 5 APG (with Ray Ray Parks of NU). Other players have also stepped up like Clark Bautista, Kevin Ferrer, Louie Vigil, Kim Lo, Melo Afuang, Ed Daquioag and Paulo Pe.
Of course, UST head coach Pido Jarencio have done wonders with this very seasoned and very deep roster. Truly living up to the “never say die” attitude he carried as a player for the famed Ginebra squad of the PBA in the 1990’s. While staying humble as a head coach during this winning stretch they are having right now.
The second round of eliminations will begin on Thursday, and here is the schedule:
vs FEU Tamaraws: August 23, 4:00 pm, Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City
vs NU Bulldogs: August 26, 4:00 pm, Smart Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City
vs DLSU Green Archers: August 29, 12:00 pm, Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay
vs AdU Soaring Falcons: September 1, 12:00 pm, Smart Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City
vs UP Fighting Maroons: September 8, 4:00 pm, Venue TBD
vs UE Red Warriors: September 13, 4:00 pm, PhilSports Arena, Pasig
vs ADMU Blue Eagles: September 20, 4:00 pm, Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay
UAAP Cheerdance Competition: September 16, 1:00 pm, Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay

It will be a challenge for these Tigers to finish the eliminations strong and get a better positioning for the Final Four, but as they say. The sky is the limit for this team and it’s up to them if they are going to bring the title back to España for the first time since 2006 during Coach Pido Jarencio’s rookie season as the coach of the Tigers and featured players like Dylan Ababou, Jojo Duncil,  Jervy Cruz, Japs Cuan, Anthony Espiritu, Allan Evangelista, Mark Canlas and Jun Cortez.

GO USTe! Go! Go! Go! Go!

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