MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) De La Salle University is headed to the UAAP Season 85 Women's Basketball Finals after a hard-earned 74-69 triumph over University of Santo Tomas, Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Forced into a do-or-die game after bowing to the Tigresses last Wednesday, the Lady Archers made sure that their twice-to-beat advantage would not go to waste as they booked their first Finals appearance since Season 79.
Clutch free throws by Bettina Binaohan and Charmine Torres in the final 31 seconds put the Lady Archers in control, while the Tigresses failed to execute in the endgame after erasing a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
"I'd like to give credit to UST, they played one hell of a series against us, but we were the better team this time around," said La Salle coach Cholo Villanueva. "We made the proper adjustment on what they're doing in their previous games."
Fina Niantcho Tchuido had 18 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals for the Lady Archers, while Binaohan contributed a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double. Torres made sure to extend her UAAP career, tallying 16 points, eight rebounds, and four dimes.
The Lady Archers were ahead, 61-52, with seven and a half minutes to play off a Binaohan three-pointer. They were still ahead, 68-61, with 2:14 to go after Torres nailed two free throws but a triple from Joylyn Pangilinan breathed some life into the Tigresses, 68-64.
Rookie big Rocel Dionisio scored off an Eka Soriano dime to make it a one-possession game, 68-66, and Tchuido's split restored a 69-66 lead with 1:39 to go. But Dionisio scored three straight points, capped by an undergoal stab, that knotted the count at 69 with 47.5 seconds to go.
Unfortunately for the Tigresses, they would not get on the board again. Binaohan drew a foul on Tacky Tacatac with 31 seconds left and calmly knocked down both charities to give La Salle the lead for good, 71-69.
A triple by Pangilinan hit all air in UST's ensuing possession, leading to a shot-clock violation. Marga Jimenez's split at stripe kept the door open for the Tigresses, but Tacatact missed a step-back three pointer that could have tied the game. Soriano controlled the offensive rebound and was fouled, but the second-year guard missed both free throws.
UST had one last chance when Lee Sario bricked two charities with 6.1 seconds left, but Sario did well to grab her own miss and keep the possession for the Lady Archers. Torres went on to ice the game at the line with 2.2 seconds to go.
"Siyempre, six years na wala sa Finals, and nag-promise din kami kay coach Cholo na hindi kami aalis ng La Salle na walang maiiwan na championship. 'Yun ang pinaka-goal namin kaya nagawa namin," said Torres, who went 4-of-4 at the line.
Agatha Bron had 13 points, while Soriano finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and three steals for the Tigresses. Tacatac, however, was limited to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting.
This is La Salle's first appearance in the Finals of UAAP women's basketball since 2016, when they were swept by National University.
It will be them against the Lady Bulldogs again, as National U punched the first Finals ticket last Wednesday by routing Ateneo de Manila University in their own Final 4 game. The Lady Bulldogs are eyeing a seventh straight women's basketball title.
DLSU (74) -- Niantcho 18, Binaohan 17, Torres 16, Sario 12, Jimenez 5, Dalisay 3, Arciga 2, De La Paz 1, Camba 0, Ahmed 0, Espinas 0.
UST (69) -- Bron 13, Soriano 10, Dionisio 9, Villasin 8, Tacatac 8, Pangilinan 8, Ambos 8, Serrano 3, Santos 2.
Quarterscores: 21-18, 38-34, 57-50, 74-69