MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) — From the fourth seed all the way to the finals.
University of Santo Tomas completed its dismantling of University of the Philippines, with a heart-stopping 68-65 victory in Wednesday's do-or-die game to punch the second and last ticket to the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball finals.
There, the Growling Tigers will take on unbeaten Ateneo de Manila University in a best-of-3 series, with the España-based squad looking to deny the Blue Eagles a third straight crown.
Graduating guard Renzo Subido was the hero for UST, drilling the go-ahead 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of UP big man Bright Akhuetie with 23.8 seconds left for a 66-65 spread.
The Fighting Maroons broke down from there, with Kobe Paras losing control of the ball in an attempt for a 3-pointer of his own. Javi Gomez de Liaño got the loose ball, but agonizingly missed a putback that could have given UP the lead once more with just 5.6 ticks left.
Season 82 MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo pegged the final score with a pair of free throws with 4.4 seconds, as time ran out on UP's season when James Spencer 3-pointer hit the rim in their final possession.
The Tigers won all four of their games against the Fighting Maroons this season.
UST is making its first finals appearance since 2015, when they lost to the Mac Belo-led FEU Tamaraws in three games.
"That was a good game," said UST head coach Aldin Ayo. "We have to give credit to Coach Bo (Perasol) and his coaching staff for the adjustments that they made."
"It was very tough for us because of their adjustments," he added. "We tried to counter, we were able to get our shots, kaya lang di pumapasok. I kept on telling the boys to keep on taking those shots, kasi 'yun naman talaga ang mga tinitira namin."
UST's persistence paid off, with Subido drilling only their seventh three-pointer in 39 tries to propel them to the Finals.
CLIMBING THE STEPLADDER
It has been an impressive climb for the Tigers, who finished with an 8-6 win-loss record in the elimination round and settled for the fourth seed due to an inferior point differential with Far Eastern University.
They took down the Tamaraws in the first phase of the stepladder, however, holding on for an 81-71 victory. In the second phase, they underscored their dominance of the Fighting Maroons this season, as UST seized a comfortable 89-69 win to force a deciding game, then repeated their feat on Wednesday afternoon in front of a crowd of 18,548 fans at Mall of Asia Arena.
Meanwhile, it is a bitter end to UP's season. The Maroons claimed the second seed with their 9-5 slate and were armed with a twice-to-beat advantage. They faltered down the stretch of the do-or-die game, however, and failed to make a return trip to the Finals.
Game 1 of the best-of-3 series is on Saturday at Araneta Coliseum.
"Wala pa kaming na-achieve," said Ayo when asked about their impending match-up against Ateneo. "We have to refocus and prepare for our next game."
Chabi Yo finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds, while Subido had 14 points. Mark Nonoy had 12 points and 6 assists, though he shot just 3-of-14 from the field, and Rhenz Abando had 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting on top of 9 rebounds.
The Tigers got off to a fast start, leading by 12 points after the opening frame, 18-6. But UP buckled down to work in the second period, outscoring UST 22-11 to enter the break down by just a single point, 29-28.
It was a nip-and-tuck battle in the final period, with UP taking its first lead of the semifinal with 5:16 left off a Juan Gomez de Liaño jumper. They stretched the lead to four points, 63-59, off a Jun Manzo layup with 2:47 to go.
From there, however, the Fighting Maroons suffered a seeming comedy of errors. Akhuetie came down with cramps in the middle of the floor, and Manzo had to foul to stop the clock. Unfortunately for UP, it was the fifth foul for the graduating point guard, forcing him to make an exit far earlier than he would like.
Noah Webb, the player sent in Manzo's place, then hurt his knee while defending Nonoy in the next possession. Not one of his teammates fouled Nonoy, forcing Webb to get up, limp to the UST point guard, and commit the foul just to stop the clock.
To make matters worse for UP, the foul was deemed as unsportsmanlike, giving Nonoy 2 free throws and a bonus possession. The rookie made both charities, though UP got a break when Chabi Yo missed a layup.
A slam dunk by Kobe Paras made it 65-61 with 1:53 left, but Abando made it a one-possession game with a transition bucket, 65-63, with just over a minute left to play.
The Maroons would not get on the board again, as Ricci Rivero bricked a layup with 35 seconds to go. They got an initial stop after David Murrell blocked Abando's triple attempt from the corner, but UST retained possession.
They got the ball to their team captain, and Subido showed no hesitation in sizing up Akhuetie, pulling up, and draining the 3-pointer for the lead.
"I took the shot kasi hindi lumapit si Bright. I've been practicing those every day and I was comfortable," said Subido, who made 4 of his 9 attempts from beyond the arc.
UST shot just 29.35% from the field, but made up for it by going 17-of-23 from the line.
Akhuetie finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds, but also committed 7 of UP's 17 turnovers. Manzo had 12 points before fouling out, while Rivero had 12 markers and 8 boards.
Paras was saddled with foul trouble all game long, and had just 8 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
Aside from Manzo, also playing their final games for UP were Jerson Prado, JanJan Jaboneta, Jaydee Tungcab, and one-and-done transferee Jaybie Mantilla.
UST 68 -- Chabi Yo 22, Subido 14, Nonoy 12, Abando 11, Ando 3, Cansino 2, Concepcion 2, Paraiso 2, Bataller 0, Huang 0.
UP 65 -- Akhuetie 16, Manzo 12, Rivero 12, Ju. Gomez de Liano 8, Paras 8, Spencer 3, Ja. Gomez de Liano 2, Prado 2, Webb 2, Murrell 0, Tungcab 0.
Quarters: 18-6, 29-28, 49-44, 68-65.
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