MANILA, Philippines – It is a rematch six years in the making.
After their classic three-game series in the UAAP Season 69 Finals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers clash once again in the Finals of the Season 75 men’s basketball tournament.
It is a match-up of the UAAP’s best teams this season. The Blue Eagles, who are four-time defending champions, finished with the No. 1 seed after amassing a 12-2 record in the elimination round. Meanwhile, the Tigers wound up as the No. 2 seed after a putting together a 10-4 win-loss slate.
Here’s how the Blue Eagles and the Growling Tigers match up in the statistics:
In Season 69, the Growling Tigers defeated the Blue Eagles in three games to clinch the championship. It was a remarkable upset, as the Blue Eagles were the pre-season favorites to win the title behind their much ballyhooed “Big Three” of JC Intal, Macky Escalona and Doug Kramer.
In Game 1, Kramer hit the game-winning lay-up at the buzzer to lift the Blue Eagles to a 73-72 victory and a one-game series lead. But in Game 2, the hot-shooting Tigers routed Ateneo, 87-71, to tie the series.
In the pivotal Game 3, the Tigers rallied from a 59-64 deficit to force overtime. UST took a 76-74 lead off free throws in the final seconds, and Ateneo’s Jai Reyes missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer. It was the Tigers’ first championship since 1996 and gave Pido Jarencio, a rookie coach at the time, his first UAAP title as a coach.
Season 75 review:
The Blue Eagles entered the season as one of the favorites to win the title anew, despite losing three of their top perimeter defenders in Eman Monfort, Kirk Long and Bacon Austria. But the elimination round was far from easy for Ateneo.
They lost to the Growling Tigers in the first round despite leading by 19 points in the first half. In the second round, they were stunned by the University of the East Red Warriors on a buzzer beater from Chris Javier.
In the Final Four, the Blue Eagles held a twice-to-beat advantage after topping the league standings with a 12-2 record. They faced their arch-rivals, the fourth-seeded De La Salle Green Archers, in the semi-finals. Behind the career-game of Kiefer Ravena, they rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to book their fifth straight Finals appearance.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were considered as dark horses entering Season 75. But behind a veteran crew, they showed the UAAP that they were a team to be a reckoned with when they stunned the Blue Eagles.
The Tigers soon built a reputation as the league’s “Comeback Cats” after rallying to several come-from-behind victories. Though they stumbled near the finish line when they lost to the Blue Eagles in the second round, UST still wound up with a 10-4 record and eventually clinched a twice-to-beat advantage.
In the Final Four, the Tigers clashed with the National University Bulldogs, who were making their first appearance in the semi-finals in 11 years. With their advantage in experience, plus a career game from sophomore swingman Kevin Ferrer, the Tigers edged the Bulldogs to book a trip to the Finals for the first time in six years.
Elimination round games:
The Eagles and the Tigers split the season series. In the first round, the Tigers rallied from a 19-point deficit to stun Ateneo, 71-70. Swingman Aljon Mariano exploded for 21 points, including 13 in the pivotal third quarter, to spark the UST rally. It was UST’s first win over the Blue Eagles since Season 70, breaking a 12-game losing streak.
But the Eagles got their revenge in the second round. In a wild, see-saw game, the Eagles and the Tigers took turns in control, before Ateneo pulled away in the fourth period. But UST, living up to their “Comeback Cats” moniker, rallied in the final seconds to take a 66-65 lead with only seven seconds to go.
UST center Karim Abdul made a crucial mistake, however, when he committed a goal-tending violation on Ateneo’s Ryan Buenafe, who was also fouled in the process. That allowed the Eagles to take a 68-66 lead, and Mariano missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer.
With that victory, the Eagles clinched the top seed and the twice-to-beat advantage.
The featured match-up will surely be the big man battle between Ateneo’s Greg Slaughter and UST’s Karim Abdul. Both players made it to the Mythical Five this season and will be expected to guard each other throughout the contest.
On the perimeter, the Tigers will have their hands full in defending Kiefer Ravena, who scored a career-high 28 points against the Archers in the Final Four. But on the flip side, Ateneo will have to handle Jeric Teng and Jeric Fortuna, who have both shown that they are capable of exploding on the offensive end.
The x-factors for both teams will most likely be the power forwards: Nico Salva for the Blue Eagles and Aljon Mariano for the Tigers.
It will be interesting to see the chess match between the two coaches, as it will be the second Finals match-up between Ateneo’s Norman Black and UST’s Pido Jarencio.