UE stays alive, foils La Salle’s Final 4 bid
MANILA, Philippines — With its season ticking away, University of the East, playing the role of this season’s Cinderella team, refused to let the clock strike midnight Wednesday.
The Red Warriors climbed out of a 10-point hole with only four minutes left to shock the De La Salle Green Archers, 68-66, and stay in Final Four contention in the UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“This was a character game for us. We were down by 10 and the boys kept their poise,” said UE head coach Derrick Pumaren. “We were in panic mode but they refused to lose, we came back and played defense.”
“Our battle cry for today is we have got to keep fighting.”
Skipper Bong Galanza sparked a UE rally from 51-61 down and finished with a team-high 21 points, including a turnaround jumper that tied the game at 63 with 55.4 seconds left.
Dan Alberto also came up big in the end game with his steal on Almond Vosotros and a three-point play off a Jeron Teng foul gave the Warriors a 66-63 edge with 31.8 ticks remaining.
“I told you guys he (Galanza) will have his breakout game this year. And he’s making me look good,” said Pumaren, whose team chalked up its fourth straight win. “I gave him the confidence and made him the team captain. I’m really, really happy for him.”
Galanza scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter and went 3-of-5 from long range overall and had seven rebounds.
UE actually blew a 15-point lead and needed to pull off a comeback of its own in the final frame.
And it started with its defense which forced seven La Salle turnovers in the fourth quarter alone. The Green Archers, who squandered a golden opportunity to secure a semifinals berth, committed 29 errors overall that gave the Red Warriors 24 points.
Teng paced La Salle with 23 points that went with nine rebounds and four assists but his pass in traffic was picked off and resulted to a free throw by Roi Sumang that gave UE a 67-63 cushion with 19.3 seconds to go.
Sumang wound up with 14 points and five assists.
Just weeks back, UE was in sixth and a return to the Final Four seemed far-fetched.
But after taking down another contender in the Archers, the Warriors find themselves in the thick of the fight with a win over also-ran University of Santo Tomas on a rare Tuesday playdate assuring them of at least a playoff for a semis seat.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We still have to take care of things on Tuesday against UST. We just have to have that same attitude,” Pumaren insisted.
“We have to face the challenge. We’re not in yet.”