Ateneo's Ryan Buenafe and Chris Newsome tried to stop UST's Karim Abdul during their do-or-die game on Wednesday. UST defeated Ateneo, 82-74, foiling the Eagles' bid for a sixth UAAP title. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNNews.com
MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 3) After five years, there will be a new champion in the UAAP after the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers defeated the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 82-74, in a see-saw battle to claim the last spot in the Final Four of the Season 76 men's basketball tournament.
The two teams who faced off for the UAAP crown in Season 75 both had their share of struggles in Season 76, but it was the Growling Tigers who came up with the big shots and big stops at the end of the game Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum, ending the Blue Eagles' five-year dominance of the collegiate league.
Karim Abdul exploded for 25 points to go along with nine boards, while Jeric Teng scored 17, including clutch free throws in the end game, to power UST.
"It's all about the heart, and pride," said UST coach Pido Jarencio after the game. "Mabigat kalaban ang Ateneo. Defending champion 'yan. Five years nag-champion 'yan eh, kaya medyo mahirap talunin ng ganun-ganun na lang."
UST led by as much as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Ateneo, behind Kiefer Ravena and Chris Newsome, got to within four points, 71-75, with under a minute to go.
But outside of a triple from Nico Elorde, the defending champions were unable to convert their chances in the final minute of the contest and Teng iced the game from the free throw line.
"S'yempre masarap sa pakiramdam. Tinalo nila kami last year, ngayon in-oust namin sila sa Final Four," said Jarencio. "Siguro it's about time na maiba naman ang champion."
The Growling Tigers will take on the top-seeded National University Bulldogs in the Final Four, which kicks off this Sunday.
Meanwhile, Ateneo's 14-year streak of making the Final Four came to a disappointing end. They also became only the second team in the Final Four era to fail to advance to the semi-finals in the following year after winning a championship.
Ravena topscored for Ateneo with 20 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists, while Newsome finished with 13 points in 21 minutes of action, after sitting out nearly all of the first half due to foul trouble.
Game of runs
The Growling Tigers dominated the first half thanks to Abdul, who imposed his will on the Ateneo frontcourt and scored 19 points in the first two quarters.
Ateneo was within five points, 14-19, with two minutes to go in the first period, when Jarencio inserted back-up guard Ed Daquioag into the game. He provided an immediate spark, teaming up with Abdul in a 6-0 run to end the quarter that gave UST a 25-14 lead.
The Tigers' advantage ballooned to 18 points in the second period. After baskets by Ryan Buenafe and Von Pessumal made it 24-19, the Growling Tigers scored 12 straight points, six of them from Abdul.
The Blue Eagles ended the first half on a 7-2 run to make it a 13-point game, 39-26, at halftime. But Ateneo only shot 24.1% in the first two quarters, while allowing UST to convert 45.2% of their shots.
The defending champions came alive in the third quarter, when, energized by Newsome's return, they scored 10 consecutive points to turn what seemed like a blowout into a close contest. Ateneo took the lead for the first time since the first quarter on two free throws by Newsome, 43-42, with 3:26 to go.
"Grabe 'yung first half namin. Aggressive kami, 'yung percentage ng shooting medyo mataas. Kaso ayun nga, may tendency na mag-relax sa third quarter," rued Jarencio.
UST was still able to enter the final canto on top, 52-51, thanks to a three-point play by Aljon Mariano.
The Tigers seemed to pull away for good when they outscored the Blue Eagles, 13-2, in the first three minutes of the fourth period to take a 65-53 lead. But Ateneo was able to chip into the lead thanks to Ravena and Newsome, who repeatedly drove hard to the basket and were able to fish for fouls against Abdul.
All was seemingly lost for Ateneo when UST took a 75-62 lead with just a little under three minutes remaining, but the Blue Eagles scored nine straight points, capped by a steal and a lay-up from Newsome, to get within four points, 71-75, with 53 seconds to go.
They were forced to send UST to the line, and both Abdul and Teng proved to be steady, while Ateneo could not make the most of their remaining possessions.
After shooting only 24.1% in the first half, Ateneo finished the game with a 35.7% clip. UST shot 43.1% from the field, and three of their four triples came at the start of the fourth quarter, which gave them enough cushion in the endgame to withstand the Blue Eagles.
UST 82 - Abdul 25, Teng 17, Daquioag 13, Ferrer 10, Mariano 7, Bautista 6, Sheriff 4, Pe 0, Lo 0, Lao 0
ADMU 74 - Ravena 20, Newsome 3, Elorde 12, Buenafe 9, Pessumal 8, Golla 4, Erram 4, Tolentino 2, Tiongson 2, Capacio 0
Quarter-scores: 25-14, 39-26, 52-5, 82-74