MANILA, Philippines -- University of Santo Tomas (UST) nearly lost all of a 20-point advantage, but held on for a 76-65 triumph over Far Eastern University in the stepladder semifinals of the UAAP Season 82 women's basketball tournament, Saturday at Araneta Coliseum.
League MVP Grace Irebu scored in transition with 2.1 seconds left to ice the victory that sent the Golden Tigresses to the best-of-3 finals, where they will play unbeaten National University.
This is UST's first appearance in the women's Finals in 13 years, when the Tigresses beat Far Eastern University in three games to claim the Season 69 crown.
Game 1 of the women's finals is at Mall of Asia Arena Wednesday.
"As I've said, the program is no shortcut," said coach Haydee Ong. "You have to work hard for it. Thank you, finally, we're in the finals."
The second-seeded Tigresses were forced to a deciding game after the Lady Tamaraws claimed a 48-46 win last Wednesday.
They imposed their will on FEU in the first half, outscoring the Lady Tams 29-10 in the pivotal second quarter to claim a 43-21 halftime lead. Irebu anchored their breakaway with 9 points and 8 rebounds, while Lon Rivera had 8 points at the break.
The Lady Tamaraws refused to go away quietly, however. Behind the shot-making of Val Mamaril, they came as close as 5 points, 70-65, with 2:20 left to play. Mamaril fired a triple and scored a layup in a 10-1 run, with Choy Buhayan drilling the three-pointer that made it a 5-point game.
It was as close as FEUwould come, however. Free throws by Eka Soriano helped the Tigresses pull away anew, and Irebu put the finishing touches on their win.
"We just kept our composure," said Ong. "Noong halftime, I told them FEU is a seasoned team, and they will come back stronger in the second half, which they did."
"The girls responded, hindi sila nataranta," she added. "Sumasagot kami, which is a good thing."
Irebu finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks, while Lon Rivera made up for a subpar effort last Wednesday with 13 points in the decider. Eka Soriano, who was ejected in the previous game, had 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Tacky Tacatac, who suffered an injury in their first game, played six minutes and had 6 points.
Mamaril, in her final game with FEU, finished with 23 points -- 21 in the second half. Bahuyan had 12 points and 6 rebounds, while Princess Jumuad had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double. Clare Castro was limited to 9 points on 4-of-19 shooting.
UST 76 -- Irebu 28, Rivera 13, Soriano 11, Portillo 8, Tacatac 6, Ferrer 4, Panti 4, Callangan 2, Gandalla 0, Gonzales 0, Javier 0.
FEU 65 -- Mamaril 23, Bahuyan 12, Jumuad 11, Castro 9, Quiapo 6, Antiola 2, Vidal 2, Abat 0, Adriano 0, Bastatas 0, Delos Santos 0, Pacia 0.
Quarters: 14-11, 43-21, 59-45, 76-65.
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