MANILA, Philippines – It’s payback time.
University of Santo Tomas (UST) grabbed frustration on its wings and let anger soar in tempered flight as it finally sent defending champion Ateneo de Manila University crashing back to earth on Tuesday with an emotional 77-71 victory in Game 1 of the 73rd UAAP juniors basketball Finals at the San Juan Arena.
Fired up by what they deemed as premature ejection of teammate Jaypee Sarcia from the game, the Tiger Cubs surprised the Eaglets with a morale-boosting second-quarter attack and a zone defense to erase a 13-19 deficit and put Ateneo in catch-up mode.
Sarcia, the Tiger Cubs’ third leading scorer with 11.8 points a game, was slapped a disqualifying foul at the 1:26 mark of the first period for allegedly hitting Ateneo guard Marky Mercado while jockeying for position during a play.
Under UAAP rules, a disqualifying foul automatically bars a player from seeing action in their next game. Pending a final resolution of the incident by the league’s technical committee, which was currently reviewing the game tape as of posting time, Sarcia is set to miss Game 2 on Thursday, something UST coach Allan Ascue rued, given the Tiger Cubs’ short rotation.
“His absence in Game 2 will be a big factor. With him out of the rotation, we stand to miss at least 12 points not to mention the leadership and experience he provides on the court,” Ascue said.
But Sarcia’s departure in Game 1 rubbed positive energy on the Tiger Cubs, who shook off championship jitters with a 13-2 run anchored on 3 triples from main man Kevin Ferrer to propel UST on top, 26-21, midway in the second frame.
Ferrer, the current MVP race leader, capped the first half with 21
points, 16 coming from the pivotal second quarter before finishing with a game-high 35 markers, 14 rebounds, a steal, assists and a block.
He got ample support from EJ Corre, who registered 24 points, 10 coming in the fourth, along with 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and a steal.
With chief gunner Kiefer Ravena leading the charge, the Eaglets chipped away UST’s 37-32 halftime lead and moved within a bucket, 37-39. UST responded with a 7-3 blitz for a 46-40 headway before Ravena countered, scoring Ateneo’s last 10 points in the third to push the Eaglets ahead, 50-49, going into the final quarter.
Both teams went toe-to-toe in the final stanza, battling for 3 lead changes and two deadlocks, before UST went on a 12-4 exchange sparked by Ferrer’s back-to-back triples to give the Tiger Cubs a commanding 74-66 spread, with 1:06 left in the game.
A Lambert Tenorio trey and a Ravena drive shoved Ateneo within three, 71-74, but that was the farthest the Eaglets can go as Ferrer finalized the count with three free throws.
Ravena, who just scored 4 points in the first half, led Ateneo with 24 markers while Von Pessumal and Paolo Romero added 14 and 12 each.
UST’s breakthrough win against Ateneo ended its elimination-round jinx against the defending champions which defeated the Tiger Cubs via a pair of cliff-hangers.
UST 77- Ferrer 35, Core 24, Cabauatan 6, Lazaro 3, Ilarde 3, Sarcia 2, Mison 2, Gooh 2, Salas 0.
ADMU 71- Ravena 24, Pessumal 14, Romero 12, Tenorio 9, Mercado 4, Dumrique 4, Javelosa 2, Gadia 2, Vitangcol 2, Suarez 0, Sacluti 0, Puno 0, Lim 0, Gamboa 0, Austria 0.
Quarter scores: 13-19, 37-32, 49-50, 77-71.