The UST Growling Tigresses notched their first victory of the still-young UAAP Season 77 with a tense 55-54 decision over the no-longer unbeaten ADMU Lady Eagles. With ADMU and UST’s superstars respectively shackled by foul trouble and outstanding defence, Growling Tigress Jen Angeles took matters into her own hands, scoring a game-high 14 points on an efficient 5/9 outing from the field. ADMU, who slip to 2-1, will be left wringing their hands after two sequential technical fouls in the second quarter handed precious momentum to the now 1-2 UST.
The Growling Tigresses looked the hungrier team from the outset, with star point forward Lore Rivera, who entered the game averaging 15.5 points and 13 rebounds a match, carving the Lady Eagles’ porous defence to earn UST an early 13-6 lead midway through the first. Ateneo head coach Erika Dy burned a time-out to settle her squad and the Lady Eagles came out of the huddle with renewed focus. Ateneo’s reshuffled their defensive deck by sticking the tenacious reserve Hazelle Yam on Rivera, stymieing a key element of UST’s attack. The Lady Eagles then pushed the tempo to the limit, punishing UST’s leaky transition defence with fast-break opportunities, cutting UST’s lead to 15-13 at the end of the opening salvo. The interval between quarters did little to quell Ateneo’s momentum as the Katipunan-based ballers reeled off a 9-2 run to start the second quarter, earning them a 22-17 cushion.
The tide would turn sharply in UST’s favour as the hard-driving Jen Angeles, who would sink 8 of her points in the quarter, drew a third personal foul on towering Lady Eaglet Danica Jose, who buoyed Ateneo’s first two wins with her 20 points and 10.5 boards a game. The call incited vehement remonstrations from the Ateneo bench, who were then slapped with consecutive technical fouls for unruly decorum. The 6-point swing snuffed out ADMU’s momentum and handed Angeles and the Growling Tigresses a slender one point lead. The Ateneo bench could only grit their teeth in frustration as with 1.7s left in the first half, the refs handed the exasperated Jose her fourth foul as she battled for an offensive rebound against UST’s imposing center, Maica Cortes. The Growling Tigresses would settle for a three-point lead heading into the lockers. Meanwhile, the partisan crowd at ADMU’s Blue Eagle Gym mockingly shouted “Technical! Technical!” at the game officials as they left the court for half-time.
The vengeful Lady Eagles struck quickly to open the second half, with elusive forward Claire Aseron slashing her way to two early buckets. Aseron would score 7 of her team-high 13 points in the third quarter, but UST’s guard tandem of Angeles and Kim Reyes poured in 8 combined markers to prevent Ateneo from pulling away. With the score knotted at 41-41 entering the deciding period, Jose returned to action for the team in blue. However, it was the Tigresses who would pounce first, blitzing the Lady Eagles with an 8-0 flurry. Jose would not let Ateneo go down meekly, as she answered UST’s surge with 6 points and some incisive passing to win the Lady Eagles a pair of attempts at the charity stripe. Ateneo’s superstar center herself sunk two clutch free throws to give the Lady Eagles the lead, 54-53, with only 22.9 seconds to play. The drama continued as Lore Rivera, with her personal set of handcuffs in Yam sitting on the bench in favour of the more offensive-minded Aseron, reminded the few UST fans in attendance that they too had a superstar. Freed from the suffocating attention of Yam, Rivera, who had only mustered a paltry 7 points, danced her way deep into the heart of Ateneo’s interior defence, where she skilfully dished to wide-open reserve Mariella Isanan for the game-winning basket. With only 15.7 seconds left on the clock, the Lady Eagles’ starting point guard Sara Bo-ot misfired a contested shot from midrange, triggering the celebrations on the UST bench.