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UST’s ‘family ball’ pushing them through this season

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Any Thomasian would admit that they would rather forget UAAP Season 77. Marred by injuries and chemistry problems, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers failed to retain their championship and even missed the Final Four for the first time since Season 74.

Given that UST had lost PBA-bound Aljon Mariano and Karim Abdul still not 100%, a slow-start was expected of the Tigers. But the Tomasinos persisted, leaning on explosive offensive performances from Ed Daquioag and Smart Elite ambassador Kevin Ferrer and a rejuvenated defensive effort for a league-best 5-1 record.

Many called for Bong Dela Cruz’s head after last season, now the former Adamsonian is getting praises from the UST faithful.

“Hindi kami team eh, family kami,” Dela Cruz answered when asked what the thought changed with his team from last season. “We went through a lot of team building exercises and talagang nagbo-bonding kami. Kahit maraming rookies ngayon, maganda ‘yung chemistry ng team.”

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UST's 'family ball' pushing them through this season    This familial state-of-mind isn’t just bladder, it has clearly reflected from the Tigers’ play. With veteran bigman, Karim still playing his way into shape, his fellow graduating vets, Ferrer and Daquioag pulled and towed their wagon in the first two games. When NU’s perimeter defenders clamped down on Ferrer and Daquioag, Abdul brought his team to within a point of a 3-0 record if not for a gaming winning Aroga long jumper. Daquioag then burned the Fighting Maroons only to suffer from foul trouble in their next match against Ateneo. Without his co-captain and down by 16 at one point in the match, Kevin Ferrer took the lead and sparked an epic comeback. It was then Ferrer’s turn to struggle with his fouls against DLSU the following game. Down by as much as 14 in the first half, UST’s role players didn’t wait until the final quarter, playing exceptional basketball through the last three quarters to bury the Archers.

The Tigers echoed their coach’s sentiment. With everyone contributing, the lead Tigers all feel they’ve gotten a huge monkey off their back.

“Masaya ako para sa mga kapatid ko kasi nagiistep-up sila. Sabi ko sa kanila kailangan lahat ng kaya namin ilabas na. Kahit hindi maganda game ko, masarap sa feeling na nakikita ‘yung mga kakampi kong maganda ‘yung nilalaro. Isa lang kasi ang goal namin lahat – manalo ng championship,” Ferrer said.

“Iba ‘yung team namin ngayon. Kahit maraming rookies, pantay-pantay lang kaming lahat. Tulungan lang para manalo. Walang lamangan sa loob ng team,” Daquioag expressed.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UST's 'family ball' pushing them through this season    “This year’s team is totally different. Last year we had a championship caliber team and we struggled. This year, we have a weaker team, but we’ve been playing great. Everyone has the same mindset this year – we just want to win and get back to the championship level. We owe it to each other and the entire coaching staff,” Karim Abdul gleefully said.

Given the way they’ve been playing, UST can very well breeze through the UE Warriors and finish the first round with a 6-1 record, already one more win than they had last season. Kevin Ferrer also now leads the statistical race for MVP and he also says that he has moved on from whatever happened to him in the past.

“Di ko na iniisip ‘yung mga nangyari dati. Mahirap maglaro ng may bitterness na nararamdaman. Basta ako masaya sa mga nagagawa ng team this season,” Ferrer closed.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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