MANILA, Philippines - (2nd UPDATE) The University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers overcame a slow start to rout the University of the East Red (UE) Warriors, 87-75, and clinch a berth in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 75 men's basketball tournament Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Jeric Teng fired a career-high 26 points while Karim Abdul had 22 points and nine rebounds as the Tigers repulsed an early fourth-quarter fight back by the Warriors.
"Actually, kaya kami nag-bad start noong first quarter and four minutes sa second, napakalamig sa loob (ng court)," UST head coach Pido Jarencio said in jest. "Maski ako, nakatayo, nanlalamig."
"Kaya 'yung mga bata, hindi maka-shoot... Nung pina-press ko, nakuha na namin ang timing namin," he added.
After taking a 32-22 lead in the first half, the Tigers maintained a double-digit lead for most of the third quarter before the Warriors came alive late in the period.
JR Sumido, Adrian Santos and Roi Sumang starred in a 9-5 run in the final 1:27 of the third as the Warriors cut the lead to six points, 49-55.
It looked as though the game was destined for a nip-and-tuck finish when in the 8:01 mark of the fourth, Abdul was called for an unsportsmanlike foul, giving Sumido two free throws and ball possession to the Warriors.
Sumido made both freebies, and Sumang drilled a three-pointer as the Warriors came as close as three, 57-60.
But UST's two Jerics, Fortuna and Teng, conspired to slam the door on the Warriors' comeback. Teng made two free throws after a UE foul, and then the Warriors turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, leading to lay-ups for the Tigers.
When the dust settled, the Tigers had scored six points in less than 20 seconds and stretched their lead to nine points again, 66-57.
The Tigers continued their assault in the final five minutes of the game, with Teng and Clark Bautista connecting from beyond the arc.
The Warriors did not help their cause as they found themselves in early penalty situation while committing several careless turnovers in the period. UE also had no answer for Teng and Abdul, who took turns in torching the Warriors.
The Tigers finished the season with a 10-4 record and have guaranteed themselves of at least a playoff for the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
"At least umabot sa 10 wins," Jarencio said. "Ito na ata 'yung best finish ng UST simula ng hinawakan ko, kaya ibig sabihin, pwede kami hanggang dulo."
"Nakaka-chamba pa. Ang chamba namin, marami," he added.
UST's 10-4 record at the end of the elimination round is their best finish since wounding up 11-3 in Season 62.
"After our loss to Ateneo, sabi namin we cannot lose kasi kapag natalo kami, pwede pa kaming mag-number five (in the league standings)," said Teng. "Gusto namin gawin 'yung part namin na manalo kami."
Sumang led the Warriors with 22 points and seven assists, but the entire UE squad struggled with their field goal shooting for the entire game.
They managed to convert only 36.2% of their attempts, while allowing a 42.3% clip. The Warriors also turned the ball over 25 times, which the Tigers converted into 23 points.
Jarencio said they have no preference for who they will face in the Final Four.
"Basta kami, waiting lang kami dito," he said. "Naka-ready lang kami dito."
"Iniisip lang namin yung pwede naming gawin na mas magi-improve kami or pag dating ng playoffs mas sharper kami... Basta from the start, ang goal ko ay mag land sa 1 or 2 spot," he added.
The Warriors finished the season with a 3-11 record.
Aljon Mariano and Clark Bautista each fired 15 points for UST, while Jeric Fortuna scored only two points but had seven points and seven boards.
Sumido finished with 19 points for the Warriors, while Santos had 16 points and 14 boards.
Meanwhile, the UAAP Technical Committee has upheld the decision of Commissioner Ato Badolato to deny UST's protest regarding their controversial loss to the Ateneo Blue Eagles last week.
The Tigers claimed that a technical foul should have been called on Ateneo coach Norman Black, while also protesting a pivotal goal-tending violation called on Abdul.
Badolato on Monday junked their protest, which the Technical Committee upheld Thursday.
UST 87 - Teng 26, Abdul 22, Mariano 15, Bautista 15, Ferrer 4, Lo 2, Fortuna 2, Vigil 1, Pe 0, Daquioag 0, Afuang 0
UE 75 - Sumang 22, Sumido 19, Santos 16, Villarias 8, Hernandez 5, Flores 3, Javier 2, Belleza 0, Olayon 0, Duran 0
Quarter scoring: 10-12, 32-22, 55-49, 87-75