MANILA, Philippines -- Adamson University head coach Nash Racela was not surprised at Nic Cabañero's aggressive performance against them in their first game of the UAAP Season 85 men's basketball tournament.
The sophomore guard from University of Santo Tomas exploded for a career-best 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting against the Soaring Falcons on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
He drilled the dagger jumper with 41 seconds left, and iced the game with 14 seconds to go for a 69-60 UST triumph.
According to Racela, played exactly as he'd promised one of Adamson's assistant coaches, whom he knew from their shared roots in Cebu.
"We emphasized how aggressive Cabañero will go in this game, so halftime we reminded them," said Racela. "We told them a secret, kasi si Cabañero was able to Cabañero talk to one of our assistants. Close eh, they're both from Cebu."
"Si Coach Ryan [Betia], sabi niya, 'Coach, pasensiya na. Masasagasaan ko lahat ng mga player mo.' He was successful, and hindi na kami nagulat," the Adamson coach added.
The Falcons tried a variety of schemes to stop Cabañero, but the UST guard powered through their schemes and repeatedly bullied his way to the bucket. A
damson did force Cabañero into nine turnovers, but they couldn't maximize their opportunities to score from those errors.
Cabañero, for his part, was admittedly inspired against the Falcons as he wanted an early birthday present for himself. The guard is turning 19 on Monday; his parents also flew to Metro Manila all the way from Cebu to watch him.
"I'm turning 19 kasi this Monday, and 'yun nga, lagi kong pinagdadasal na ibigay sa amin 'yung first win. Hindi lang 'yung first game, these upcoming games din," said Cabañero. "Ito kasi ang magdi-dictate sa amin in the future, in the upcoming games. Dito namin makukuha ang kumpiyansa namin."
"Pumunta pa 'yung parents ko dito galing from Cebu eh. So pinakita ko sa kanila 'yung intensity and kung paano ako maglaro," he added. "I'm so thankful kay Coach Bal, to the coaches, kasi ang laki ng tiwala nila sa akin."
"Isipin niyo 'yun, hindi ko naman sinasabi na bata pa ako, pero tinutulungan nila ako na mag-mature as a player," he said.
For UST coach Bal David -- who made his UAAP coaching debut on Saturday -- it's not hard to put his faith in Cabañero, having seen how hard the player works. He had no doubt that Cabañero would step up for the Tigers in Season 85, especially after they lost promising rookie Kean Baclaan to National University, and seniors Brian Santos and Sherwin Concepcion to eligibility issues.
"Wala naman sigurong hindi magtitiwala sa skills ni Nic, 'no. I'm sure, lahat ng coaches, sa talent ni Nic, bibigyan siya ng opportunity na mag-grow," said David. "Nag-step up din si Nic."
Cabañero knows that expectations will be higher after this performance, and pressure is already on him to lead the Tigers this year. But he is confident that he is well-prepared to deal with the pressure and is counting on his coaches and teammates to support him.
"Meron talagang pressure pero andiyan kasi si Captain Paul Manalang, coach Bal, and all the coaches. Lagi nila akong ina-advice kung paano mag-mature, paano mag-stay composed during the game," said the guard.
"Ginawa ko lang talaga 'yung mga sinasabi nila. For me, sobrang thankful din ako kay Coach Bal kasi hinahayaan niya ako kung ano 'yung gusto kong gawin sa court. Alam niya, naniniwala siya sa akin na kaya ko," he added.
Catch replays of UAAP Season 84 games via the UAAP Varsity channel on iWantTFC, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.