MANILA, Philippines -- University of Santo Tomas coach Haydee Ong expects a close affair when her Growling Tigress face off Sunday against De La Salle University for the last spot in the Finals of the UAAP Season 85 women's basketball tournament.
The Tigresses were in a must-win situation last Wednesday against the second-seeded Lady Archers, who had a twice-to-beat advantage and would have advanced to the Finals with a win. But Ong got a big game from Eka Soriano (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Tacky Tacatac (17 points) as the Tigresses pulled away for a 68-57 triumph that kept their campaign alive.
Ong was quick to put the win in perspective afterward, however. "Sabi ko nga sa mga girls, the job is not yet over hanggang matalo namin ng dalawang beses 'yung La Salle going into the Finals," she explained.
La Salle and UST split their elimination round encounters before the Tigresses won their first Final 4 meeting.
Ong is bracing for a tense encounter in their do-or-die affair, knowing that La Salle is eager to bounce back after a tough performance in the first game where they made just two of 16 attempts from long distance.
"I think it's going to be a close game pa rin. It's up to the ladies who want it more talaga," said Ong, who is eyeing a second straight Finals appearance after leading UST to the championship series in Season 82.
"Usually talaga sa Final 4, 'yung x and o's talaga, hindi na 'yan nagma-matter. It's the effort, the determination, the perseverance ang mga kailangan ng mga players ko," she added.
La Salle coach Cholo Villanueva, meanwhile, wants to see his players perform better under pressure after a shaky game. He notes that not only did the Lady Archers shoot poorly from beyond the arc, but they also missed 10 of 23 free throws and commit 18 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Tigresses.
"We just need to execute during clutch moments. We just need to thrive under pressure. Pressure is part of the game, pressure of life," he said.
"So, we just need to be able to execute properly, play within our capabilities, and trust the habits that we built for the number of months that we have prepared," he added.
La Salle has not made the Finals since Season 79, when they were swept by six-time defending champion National University.
The Lady Bulldogs are already waiting in the best-of-3 Finals series after beating the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 83-64, in their own Final 4 series also last Wednesday.
Game time is at 3 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.