UST's Aljon Mariano
MANILA, Philippines – University of Santo Tomas (UST) forward Aljon Mariano was a popular figure on social media after the Growling Tigers lost to De La Salle, 69-71, in the hotly-contested Game 3 of the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball finals Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Mariano misfired on a potential game-winning three-pointer for UST at the end of regulation, then committed a turnover late in the overtime period that eventually led to Almond Vosotros hitting the go-ahead jump shot for La Salle.
Later, both "Aljon Mariano" and "#PrayForAljonMariano" trended locally on Twitter as netizens debated the forward's performance. Mariano wound up with only three points, missed all eight of his field goal attempts, though he did grab 10 rebounds - the most among the Growling Tigers.
Some netizens wondered why Mariano took the shot at the end of regulation, instead of giving the ball to graduating guard Jeric Teng. Others, however, defended him, saying he had played a big role in getting the Tigers to the Finals in the first place.
"Muntik namang ma-shoot eh," Mariano later told reporters when asked about his three-point attempt at the end of regulation. "Kung na-shoot 'yun, eh ‘di iba na 'yung storya."
"Okay naman 'yung tira ko. Hindi lang na-shoot," he added.
But he also admitted that he made some wrong decisions in overtime, especially with his late turnover.
"Ayun, wrong decision lang. Mali lang ako," he said.
UST assistant coach Estong Ballesteros refused to add fuel to the fire, only saying that Mariano had a bad game, nothing more.
"Si Aljon, nasa kanya na 'yun. Siya 'yung naglalaro, kami binibigay lang namin, tinuturo lang namin sa kanya kung ano ang dapat," Ballesteros said. "Pero si Aljon, okay naman. Medyo masama lang talaga ang laro niya."
Ballesteros said that in the final six seconds of regulation, the ball should have gone to center Karim Abdul.
"Kay Karim talaga 'yun. Ang sabi nga ni Karim, ibigay sa kanya 'yung bola. Kahit anong mangyari, manalo o matalo, sa kanya 'yung bola," he explained.
"Ang nangyari, na-deny si Karim. Si Aljon 'yung lumabas. Pero ang dapat ginawa ni Aljon, he attacked the basket," he added.
The Growling Tigers lost out on the chance to become the first and only fourth-seed in UAAP history to win the championship. Instead, De La Salle annexed their first men's basketball crown since 2007, and eighth overall.