Then there was one.
The University of the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers needed every point, every hustle play from explosive senior Ed Daquioag in staving off the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 67-59, to remain as the only unbeaten team in the 78th season of the UAAP Sunday afternoon at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
11,705 fans packed the MOA Arena to witness this battle. Moreover, the match-up between two of the biggest universities in the country was much-hyped on both the internet and on the streets. However, the game started off slow and sluggish as both teams were cold from the field. After a 4-0 start courtesy of Ed Daquioag, both teams could not buy a basket for almost six minutes of action. The cagers from Diliman would only get their first bucket at the 3:51 mark of the first quarter coming from a fade away shot by Jarrell Lim. Louis Vigil, Karim Abdul, and Daquioag pounced the paint in order to put up points for the UST. With 1.1 seconds to go and with the UP faithful growing restless, Diego Dario was able to find French student-athlete Cheick Kone for a thunderous jam to end the opening stanza with the score of 10-4.
The Growling Tigers blasted the still struggling Maroons during the start of the second quarter. After a hard drive by Kone to open up the scoring, Marvin Lee converted on three free throws that sparked a 9-2 run that gave the Gold and White squad a 19-8 lead. As the Tigers were trying to breakaway, the Iskos ng Bayan took advantage of careless UST turnovers. A top of the arc three pointer by JR Gallarza and free throws by Dario ended the quarter with UP still down six 21-15.
Rensy Bajar’s wards fired on all cylinders during the third canto in eventually getting the lead for the first time 27-25 with 6:11 remaining in the third after a three pointer by Jett Manuel. With UST regaining the lead at 32-31, member of the legendary San Beda Super Six Dave Moralde was called for a technical foul for swinging an elbow at Abdul with 3:55 to go. Both teams were fired up after the call as they went hard on offense. A three-point play conversion by lanky forward Kevin Ferrer and a fastbreak layup by Sheriff gave UST a 42-37 lead but a three-pointer by Gelo Vito ended the quarter with UST holding on to just a 42-40 lead.
The fourth quarter was a whole different story as Ed Daquioag took over the game. Daquioag opened the quarter in scoring seven points in a 9-2 blast to give his team a 51-44. And by the 2:38 mark of the final frame, explosive wingman had already scored 22 points in the game. Jett Manuel tried to spark a final UP rally with a three pointer that cut the lead to just three, 55-52, with 2:22 remaining in the game. However, Manuel badly missed a breakaway layup that could have cut the lead to just one. A turnaround hook by Daquioag followed by free throws gave the Growling Tigers a 59-54 lead. Questionable decisions were also made by the inexperienced UP squad in taking long three-pointers and making fouls even with still a minute to go. Dario tried to keep his team afloat by Ferrer, Renzo Subido, and Vigil sealed the game for UST, 67-59, to remain undefeated.
“It was a hard game. UP prepared really hard for us,” coach Bong dela Cruz remarked about the game. “Sinuwerte lang kami kasi naexecute namin ng tama ang defense and offense namin.” Moreover, the victorious coach knew that Daquioag would lead the team this year. “Last year pa lang alam ko na na si Ed at Kev [Ferrer] ang magdadala ng team.” This was a long-time coming for Daquioag as his UAAP season 77 campaign was hampered by injury.
The Growling Tigers were led by Ed Daquioag’s 27 big points on 53% shooting from the field and 8/11 from the charity stripe. Smart Elite ambassador Kevin Ferrer complimented the effort with a huge double-double with 16 points and ten boards. For the upstart Maroons, Diego Dario led the team with 15 points. Paul Desiderio added 12 while Smart Elite ambassador Jett Manuel had 9 markers and 7 boards. However, Manuel shot a dismal 4/12 from the field.
The UST Growling Tigers (3-0) look to extend their best start since 2003 as they face the NU Bulldogs (0-2) on Saturday, September 19 at 4:00pm while the UP Maroons (2-1) will have the FEU Tamaraws as their next assignment on Sunday, September 20 at 4:00pm.
UST (67) – Daquioag 27, Ferrer 16, Abdul 8, Subido 4, Vigil 4, Bonleon 3, Sherrif 2, Huang 0, Lao 0, Suarez 0
UP (59) – Dario 15, Desiderio 12, Manuel 9, Kone 6, Gallarza 5, Moralde 4, Juruena 3, Vito 3, Lim 2, Amar 0, Asilum 0, Harris 0, Jaboneta 0, Longa 0, Prado 0
Quarters: 10-3; 21-15; 42-40; 67-59
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