Live to fight another day
With their season on the line, Rhenz Abando, Mark Nonoy and Sherwin Concepcion showed they were deserving of the trust shown by their fiery coach, who once again pressed all the right buttons in a second do-or-die duel in five days.
The trio delivered the biggest shots as the Growling Tigers whipped the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 89-69, to forge a knockout clash for the last finals berth before a big Sunday night crowd at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Abando buried three treys and finished with 17 points, Nonoy fired 16 points and Concepcion made four triples as the Tigers took command early and continued their dominance of the Fighting Maroons this season. It was the second knockout game survived by the Tigers so far after holding off Far Eastern U in the first of stepladder victories they need to win to earn the right to face defending champion Ateneo.
“It’s been a process for the rookies this season,” said Ayo. “There were times when they struggled and kept committing mistakes. But they’ve continued to learn and that’s the most important thing. The desire to win will always be there. But the maturity and skills come with the work they put in everyday in practice.”
Another win against the second seed Maroons on Wednesday in their third straight sudden-death match will send the Tigers to the Finals against the unbeaten Eagles.
UST looked like a team that had it all figured out, in stark contrast to UP that had trouble executing its offense. The Tigers had 23 assists, 11 more than the Fighting Maroons, who also had 22 turnovers. Renzo Subido alone matched the entire UP squad’s assist total with 12.
But it was the performance of Ayo’s newcomers that gave the Tigers the boost they needed just when the Maroons were about to make headway.
“You’re always praying that during the season, they become mature,” Ayo added. “This is our 16th game and they’ve already learned how they can contribute. What is important is that they stay within their roles.”
Abando helped UST build a strong start in the first half while Concepcion and Nonoy knocked down crucial treys in the final three minutes to take the fight out of UP.
League MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo, another standout in his first year with UST, scored on a putback to make it 80-63 with 1:59 left to play. Nonoy, this season’s Rookie of the Year, capped the victory in front of a crowd of 17,772 with another trey for an 85-65 lead, 50.6 seconds remaining.
“It’s all about execution both on defense and offense,” said Ayo. “We executed our game plan and all the instructions.”
Carrying the momentum of their 81-71 win over FEU in the first phase of the semifinals, the Tigers came out sharp and ferocious as they built an early double-digit advantage and stayed in control all throughout.
Chabi Yo hit 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Juan Gomez de Liano got going in the second half, providing the Maroons a glimmer of hope by scoring his game-high 20 points in the last two quarters.
Bright Akhuetie added 19 points and 18 boards but Kobe Paras was limited to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, marking the first time he was held below double digits this season.
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