COACH Pido Jarencio cried unabashedly as University of Santo Tomas stood seconds away from clinching a championship berth.
The emotional reaction came after his Tigers became the first No. 4 team to advance to the UAAP men’s basketball Finals with a 76-69 decision that ousted top-seeded National University yesterday in their do-or-die semifinal duel at Mall of Asia Arena.
The Tigers overcame the twice-to-beat advantage of the Bulldogs with Kevin Ferrer and Jeric Teng knocking in the clutch baskets in the final quarter to derail NU’s late fightback.
“This is history, this is the first time this happened,” said Ferrer. “This is destiny for us.”
The Tigers will go for another shot at the crown against the streaking La Salle Green Archers this week in what would seem like a revival of their fierce rivalry in the ’90s.
Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series is set on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I’m speechless,” said Jarencio, who couldn’t hold back his emotions even at the press room. “Hindi ko akalain na aabot ng Finals. Madaming taong nagdududa sa kakayanan ko (I never thought we will reach the Finals. So many doubted my capabilities).”
Jarencio, indeed, had every reason to be emotional as the Tigers headed into the game with history against them as no fourth-ranked team has eliminated the No. 1 seed since the league introduced the Final Four format in 1994.
But the Tigers came out confident from the get-go, building an 11-point advantage right in the first quarter before dousing the Bulldogs’ repeated rallies.
Ferrer knocked in half of his 18 points from three-point range, the last triple sparking a huge 17-8 windup in the last four minutes.
The self-destructing Bulldogs committed a spate of turnovers in the final minute as NU star Ray Parks also wound up scoreless in the final quarter.
Jeric Teng topscored with 19 and Aljon Mariano delivered 12 points and 10 rebounds to help the Tigers go for another try at the title after bowing to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in last year’s Finals.
NU also absorbed a painful loss earlier as the Lady Archers blasted the top-ranked Lady Bulldogs, 72-48, in Game 1 of the women’s championship.
Ara Abaca had a double-double outing of 16 points and 11 rebounds while Trisha Piatos shot 15 for the Lady Archers, who outscored the Lady Bulldogs, 22-7, in the final quarter.
“It was a great defensive effort on our part,” said La Salle coach Tyrone Bautista. “Going into this game, NU was the No. 1 offensive team.”
UST 76–Teng 19, Ferrer 18, Mariano 12, Bautista 8, Sheriff 6, Abdul 6, Daquioag 3, Lo 2, Pe 1, Lao 1.
NU 69–Parks 15, Mbe 10, Alolino 10. Javelona 9, Villamor 8, Rosario 6, Roño 6, Khobuntin 3, Javillonar 2, Neypes 0, Alejandro 0.
Quarters: 19-10, 31-31, 50-49, 76-69