MANILA, Philippines — University of Santo Tomas got back at its tormentor in last year’s finals as it eliminated reigning titlist Ateneo from contention in the UAAP season 76 men’s basketball tournament with an 82-74 win on Wednesday.
The Growling Tigers joined National University, La Salle, and Far Eastern University in the semifinals as they snapped the Blue Eagles’ 14-year streak of final four appearances.
Challenged by the fact that it’s fighting of its life against Ateneo anew, UST came out firing with Karim Abdul leading the charge and built an 18-point lead midway the second period.
But just like most of the games they have battled in the past, it still boiled down to the few final possessions.
The Tigers didn’t get to cruise to that final four spot and had to relentlessly fend off the Blue Eagles’ fight back in the second half.
“Talagang mabigat na kalaban Ateneo. Five-peat champion ’yan kaya mahirap talunin nang ganun ganun lang,” said head coach Pido Jarencio.
Even when UST seemed safely ahead 75-62 with 2:34 to play, Ateneo wouldn’t give up its bid that easily and countered with a 12-2 run to just be within a basket of a tied game.
But Jeric Teng, likewise, wasn’t planning on playing his last game in a Tigers’ jersey, and scored five clutch freethrows in the last 27.9 seconds to win it for UST.
“I’ve been through a lot this season. I’m overjoyed. I didn’t want this to be my last game,” Teng, who had 17 points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes, said.
An inspired Karim Abdul churned out 25 points, nine rebounds and five blocks — mostly in the first half as he, at one point, just had two points less than Ateneo’s output.
But the Tigers couldn’t have their way in the paint in the third quarter like they did in the first half, which allowed Ateneo to even take the lead, 48-45, on a trey by Kiefer Ravena with 2:18 in the third.
Ravena had 20 points for Ateneo, while Christ Newsome had nine of his 13 points in the payoff period.
After going scoreless for five minutes in the third, UST summoned a great run to start the payoff period and built a 65-53 lead after uncorking three triples.
The Tigers are moving on to face the Bulldogs in the final four — but this time with a twice-to-beat disadvantage, while the Blue Eagles are missing the final four for the first time since 1998.