MANILA - It took him a while, but Rhenz Abando finally got his rhythm in University of Santo Tomas' game against National University in the UAAP Season 82 tournament on Sunday.
As it turns out, it was perfect timing for the high-leaping rookie, who was limited to just 8 points in the first three quarters while struggling to find his mark from the perimeter.
"Hanggang fourth quarter, parang nasa labas ako ng sistema niya," Abando admitted after the game. "'Yun 'yung mali ko, na naghahanap ako para sa sarili ko."
"And 'yun nga, tama yung sinasabi ni coach na hahanapin niya at hahapin ako," he added.
A three-pointer at the 1:32 mark of the fourth quarter got Abando going -- and trimmed UST's deficit to just one point, 64-63. He would add another triple with 27.7 seconds left to again make it a one-point game, 68-67, before his teammates Mark Nonoy and Soulemane Chabi Yo conspired to send the game to overtime.
After a triple by NU's John Lloyd Clemente knotted the count at 73 in the extra period, Abando took over. He nailed another three-pointer, and after a Chabi Yo jumper, he put up his fifth long-range shot of the game to push UST ahead, 81-73.
The Bulldogs would not threaten again, and the Growling Tigers seized an 87-74 win.
"Noong overtime na, parang doon ko lang naramdaman na nasa loob na ako ng sistema niya eh," said Abando, who finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists.
The rookie transferee out of La Union would score 13 points in the final 7 minutes of the game to lift UST to victory. For head coach Aldin Ayo, it is just a matter of Abando letting the game come to him, rather than forcing the issue as he did for most of their match.
"He just has to play his game," Ayo said of his up-and-coming star, who has immediately gained a following thanks to his highlight reel dunks and sweet outside shooting.
"Hayaan niya lang na dumating sa kanya 'yung laro. Wag niya hanapin 'yung laro niya," he added.
"Antayin niya lang na dumating sa kanya 'yung laro niya, because alam naman namin kung gaano siya ka-talented and skilled, and 'yun lang, kailangan niya lang mag-laro ng laro niya. Wag niyang pipilitin."
Thanks in large part to Abando's timely explosion, the Growling Tigers bounced back from last Wednesday's loss to Ateneo and improved to 3-1.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.