Refusing a meltdown, Clare Castro and the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws got a much-needed to stop to stave off the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigresses, 68-66, Wednesday afternoon at the SMART Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
This is an unexpected Finals appearance for the Lady Tamaraws, according to head coach Bert Flores, as they lost six seniors a season ago.
“Sobra! Sobra talaga!” said Flores, as the Lady Tamaraws are returning to the Big Dance after four years. “Yung team namin, anim nawala. Nung wala si Clare, bulilit kami, para kaming minions. Ngayon, may [June Mar] Fajardo na kami, hindi na kami bulilit.”
And it was Castro who towed FEU to the Finals, tallying 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds and two swats.
“Sobrang thankful ako sa teammates ko dahil hindi kami nag-give up nung dulo. Masaya ako na bumalik kami ng finals after four years,” she said.
With Castro leading the way, the Lady Tamaraws went on a 15-3 surge, highlighted by a Castro triple and capped by another one by Valerie Mamaril.
Soon-to-be-named MVP Grace Irebu and Sai Larosa answered right back with a surge of their own in the final frame, cutting the lead down to just two with 51 ticks remaining. During that spurt, Irebu – who had just two triples during the season – knocked down three.
“Galing din sa pagod ito. Sabi ko, bakbakin namin dahil pagod sila,” recalled Flores, as UST are coming off four do-or-die games.
After getting a stop with 6.3 seconds remaining, Haydee Ong sued for time to regroup her team. Graduating guard Tin Capilit tried to take matters into her own hands, but her lay-in was overcooked. Castro was able to grab the rebound as time expired.
Castro was supported by Fatima Quiapo, who had 12 points and six boards, and Nina Antiola, who chipped in nine points, four rebounds, and four assists.
Irebu led UST with 28 points – including three triples, 13 rebounds, four steals, and three blocks. Larosa, who played in her final collegiate game, added 10 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Capilit also played in her final game.
FEU will next face the reigning, four-time champions National University Lady Bulldogs. The best-of-three finals series begins on Saturday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
FEU 68 — Castro 32, Quiapo 12, Antiola 9, Mamaril 7, Taguiam 5, Bahuyan 3, Vidal 0, Bastatas 0, Abat 0, Adriano 0, Payadon 0.
UST 66 — Irebu 28, Ferrer 11, Larosa 10, Capilit 9, Portillo 5, Rivera 3, Aujero 0, Tacatac 0, Sangalang 0, Magat 0, Gonzales 0.
Quarterscores: 16-12, 31-30, 53-43, 68-66.