Fighting for their playoff lives, the undermanned UST Growling Tigers fought defending UAAP champions De La Salle University tooth and claw for 40 minutes, before ultimately costing themselves a win through haphazard ball handling and shoddy rebounding, dropping their game, 67-60 on September 6 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
UST played the game without key players Louie Vigil, who was lost to suspension after earning two unsportsmanlike fouls and star forward Kevin Ferrer who is out indefinitely with a broken hand.
UST’s 5-7 record eliminates them from Final Four contention. La Salle can secure a Final Four berth with a win against UE next Wednesday, September 10.
The La Salle’s offense was carried by Jeron Teng’s performance on the line. Despite shooting just 1/6 from the field, Teng put up seven points in the opening period buoyed by a perfect 5/5 performance from the charity stripe. Jason Perkins dominated the glass for La Salle grabbing six rebounds in the quarter contributing to a 14-8 advantage for the Green Archers on the glass.
Despite strong performances from Teng and Perkins, UST would win the quarter behind strong team basketball. Five different players scored for the Growling Tigers and five of their seven field goals were assisted. UST also shot a scorching 3/7 from the three point arc.
La Salle rookie, Prince Rivero had a chance to give the Green Archers the lead in the dying seconds of the first quarter after drawing a foul on Kim Lo on a three point attempt but missed all three free throw attempts.
La Salle guards Kib Montalbo and Julian Sargent picked up the offense after Teng picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, combining for 10 points in the quarter. Sargent hit on both his three point attempts, accounting for all of La Salle’s three pointers in the half.
Despite facing the most imposing front court in the UAAP, Karim Abdul found his rhythm scoring seven points in the period, tallying nine by halftime. Rangy forward Kent Lao hit all three of his three point attempts for an efficient nine points in ten minutes.
UST led 34-30 at the half.
Jeron Teng took control of the game in the second half, scoring 17 of his game high 26 after the halftime break. Much of his offense was powered by his sublime 14/17 performance at the free throw line.
UST kept pace with La Salle in the third quarter behind the career efforts of Ed Daquioag and Kent Lao who scored 19 and 14 points respectively. Daquioag overcame ‘concussion-like symptoms’ after taking an elbow to the face from Kib Montalbo in a loose ball situation. Daquiaog hit a career-high three 3-point attempts after making just three three pointers all season.
The final quarter was a nightmare period for the Growling Tigers, seeing their chance at a repeat trip to the playoffs literally slip through their hands totalling 8 turnovers in the quarter, five of which were registered by center Abdul.
Green Archer center Arnold Van Opstal came alive in the payoff period, scoring 10 points and playing crucial defense against Abdul. Van Opstal erased UST’s final lead with a driving scoop lay up around Karim Abdul with 2:15 left in the game. After an empty possession from UST, Jeron Teng split a pair of free throws to give La Salle a lead they would not relinquish. Abdul travelled on the ensuing possession to seal the game for the Green Archers.
La Salle head coach Juno Sauler lauded his defense, attributing the win to their mettle on that end of the floor.
“We wanted to focus on their scorers like Aljon Marino and Karim Abdul. We were able to pull this out because of our defense. Abdul shot 2/12 and Aljon 3/15.”
“More than what Arnold contributed on offense, what was more important was rotating and helping out on Abdul.”
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s crucial match up against UE, Coach Sauler had this to say, “We just want to play well on Wednesday [against UE]. We only have a couple of games left, we need to get the most out of those couple of opportunities. Whatever happens, sometimes we need to accept that things are out of our control.”