For the second straight game, Grace Irebu came off the bench. And for the second straight game, it paid dividends.
Behind the league’s Most Valuable Player’s spectacular outing, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigresses bucked a slow start to eliminate the De La Salle University Lady Archers, 79-67, Wednesday morning at the SMART Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
With both games knotted with an 8-6 slate to end the elimination round of the UAAP Season 81 Women’s Basketball Tournament, a playoff was needed for the last Final Four slot. And just like last Friday, it was the Growling Tigresses who were able to dig deep.
“It was a well-fought game. Knockout eh. Thanks to La Salle for making us a better team this season,” expressed third-year UST head coach Haydee Ong. “The competition was very tight. I’m happy with the resiliency of the girls. They did not give up after we were down 11-0. They just kept on fighting.”
Looking for energy, Ong immediately fielded in Irebu midway through the opening frame, since they faced an 11-0 deficit. The Congolese student-athlete delivered quickly, scoring UST’s first bucket. As a result, the rest of the Growling Tigresses followed suit, chipping away into the lead.
“Sabi ko nga, sometimes kelangan natin ng magic bunot eh. So medyo maiba yung takbo nung game. I hope we can win another game on Sunday,” added Ong.
Free throws by Irebu with 2:41 left in the first half gave UST their first taste of the lead.
The graduating backcourt duo of Khate Castillo and Camille Claro kept La Salle in pace with UST in the third canto. But the imposing frontline of Irebu and Larosa proved too much in the final frame, towing UST to a lead that went to as high as 13 points.
“When I announced it nung Monday [na she was the MVP], she cried. She’s very happy. Also Tantoy [Ferrer] and Sai [Larosa],” shared Ong. “So I guess the girls were extra motivated because of it and sana matuloy into the next game.”
Irebu finished the game with 29 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks. Larosa had 18 points as well, while Tin Capilit chipped in 16 markers.
Castillo, Claro, and Kat Nunez played their final game for La Salle. Castillo had 20 points, while Claro finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Lady Archers will finish in fifth place this season — two spots higher than their finish last year.
Irebu finished with a game-high 29 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks.
UST will next face the loser of the Adamson Lady Falcons-FEU Lady Tamaraws’ battle for second game. The knockout quarterfinals will take place on Sunday at the same venue.
UST 79 – Irebu 19, Larosa 18, Capilit 16, Aujero 4, Fereer 3, Tacatac 3, Portillo 2, Rivera 2, Sangalang 2, Magat 0
DLSU 67 – Castillo K. 20, Claro 15, Arciga 10, Revillosa 7, Paraiso 6, Torres 3, Binaohan 2, Quingco 2, Nunez 2, Castillo R. 0, Decampo 0, Jimenez 0
Quarterscores: 17-21, 38-33, 54-50, 79-67