MANILA, Philippines – The University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers look to return to UAAP Finals for the first time since 2006 but will face strong opposition from a tough National University (NU) squad when they meet on Saturday in the UAAP Season 75 Final Four at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Tigers (10-4) will have a twice-to-beat advantage but the Bulldogs (9-5) are coming in with momentum after beating the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws in overtime in their last game of the elimination round.
“This win is very significant for the NU community,” Bulldogs coach Eric Altamirano said at the time. “This is the first time we made it to the Final Four. This is where we want to be from the start of the season.”
It is the first time in 11 years that the Bulldogs made it to the UAAP post-season. On their way there, they had to endure some controversy, including the replayed game against the Tamaraws.
“There were a lot of setbacks for this team this season, but I told the boys that God has a plan for us,” Altamirano said.
The Tigers won both games against the Bulldogs in the elimination round, but had to overcome huge deficits in both games.
In their first meeting, the Bulldogs posted double-digit leads in the second quarter and again in the third, but UST outscored National U, 24-11, in the fourth quarter to complete their comeback.
In their second round encounter, the Bulldogs once again built a large lead but fell apart in the fourth period. A buzzer-beating three from Jeric Fortuna sent the game into overtime, and Aljon Mariano drained the eventual go-ahead twinner for the Tigers.
The Tigers clinched a Final Four slot and the twice-to-beat advantage when they defeated the University of the East Red Warriors in the last game of the elimination round.
“At least, umabot sa 10 wins,” UST head coach Pido Jarencio said at the time. “Yan ang best finish ng UST simula hinawakan ko, kaya ibig sabihin, pwede kami hanggang dulo.”
If the Tigers win, they will return to the UAAP Finals for the first time since Season 69, wherein they won the title after beating the Ateneo Blue Eagles in three games.
Analysts are expecting an exciting battle between the two squads, given the close nature of their two elimination round mettings. The Tigers and the Bulldogs are almost evenly matched in most statistical categories as well.
The game will also feature a match-up between the two top MVP candidates this season. NU’s Bobby Ray Parks and UST’s Karim Abdul finished first and second, respectively, in statistical points.
If the Bulldogs beat the Tigers, the two squads will play a knockout game on October 3.