MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) De La Salle University managed to stay in the hunt for a Final 4 spot in UAAP Season 85, after escaping with a 77-72 triumph over the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Green Archers overhauled a nine-point deficit in the final quarter, and limited the Growling Tigers to just one field goal in the final eight minutes to snatch the crucial victory.
La Salle thus ended the elimination round with a 7-7 win-loss record, keeping its hopes of reaching the semifinals alive. However, La Salle's chances still hinge on the result of the game between Ateneo de Manila University and Adamson University: a win by the Soaring Falcons will eliminate the Green Archers.
"The boys hung tough out there, just a total team effort," said La Salle coach Derick Pumaren, whose squad played without Michael Phillips and Kevin Quiambao in the contest. "I was telling the boys, we gotta win first before we talk about the second game. The most important thing is we have to take care of business, and then we worry about the second game."
The Green Archers initially looked as though they would be unable to take care of business: they trailed 69-60 with 8:26 to play after a huge three-pointer by Royce Mantua.
But Mark Nonoy sank a triple of his own with 6:10 to go, sparking a 17-3 finishing run for the Green Archers. A split at the line by Nonoy knotted the count at 69 with 2:29 left, and La Salle seized the lead for good when Jan Macalalag knocked down a baseline jumper with 1:51 left, 71-69.
Adama Faye's free throw ended a long silence for the Growling Tigers and made it a one-possession game, 73-70, but UST faded away from there. Evan Nelle nailed four free throws down the stretch to ice the game in La Salle's favor.
"I'm really proud of the boys. We've been missing guys, but they've been playing solid basketball in spite and despite of things na nangyayari sa team namin," said Pumaren, whose team struggled with injuries and suspensions throughout the tournament.
Nelle led the way for La Salle with a season-high 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting, along with four rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 30 minutes. Raven Cortez added 13 points and four boards.
Mantua had 17 points on an efficient 5-of-7 clip from long range to lead the Tigers in scoring, while Nic Cabanero came off the bench to put up 16 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Faye had nine points and 12 rebounds, but committed a crucial turnover with 21 seconds left that prevented UST from potentially tying the game.
The Green Archers will now be interested spectators in the final elimination round game between Adamson and Ateneo, where they find themselves cheering for a win by their archrivals.
A loss by Adamson will give the Soaring Falcons a 7-7 win-loss record, and they will play La Salle in a knockout game for the last Final 4 spot on Sunday.
LA SALLE 77 -- Nelle 25, Cortez 13, Nonoy 10, B. Phillips 8, Macalalag 6, Austria 5, Estacio 3, Abadam 2, Buensalida 2, Manuel 2, Nwankwo 1, Winston 0.
UST 72 -- Mantua 17, Cabanero 16, Calimag 10, Faye 9, Pangilinan 5, Manalang 4, Laure 4, Manaytay 4, Lazarte 3, Duremdes 0, Garing 0, Escobido 0.
Quarters: 21-27, 37-42, 55-59, 77-72.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.