UST's Karim Abdul (20) tries to score against La Salle's Arnold Van Opstal in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball Finals. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – De La Salle University center Arnold Van Opstal believes the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers will be tough contenders in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament after losing in the Season 76 finals.
"This year is no different. I'm pretty sure they're gonna come out with a lot of fire, especially after losing Game 3 like that," Van Opstal said of the Tigers. "We're preparing for them (this season) as well."
UST drew first blood in its best-of-three Finals series against the Green Archers, but DLSU rallied to force a deciding Game 3. In Game 3, the Archers overhauled a 15-point deficit to eventually win, 71-69, in overtime.
"The final two minutes, we basically needed a miracle and it happened," Van Opstal said when asked to reminisce about their classic encounter last year.
"Almond (Vosotros) got the ball and he hit a clutch shot, (Karim) Abdul got it in the corner and (the ball went) straight to the ring. I thought it was going in, but it hit all board, and we won the championship," he added. "It was magical."
Van Opstal gave last season's UST squad tremendous credit, calling them "a great team."
"It was really tough playing them, especially since they're very deep and you have players that step up every game. You have Abdul, and Jeric Teng was a beast in the finals. He was giving us a hard time," he said.
UST swingman Kevin Ferrer promised that the Tigers will do their best to redeem themselves in Season 77, especially as they have fallen short in two consecutive Finals now, having lost to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Season 75 Finals.
"Eto, this coming season, babawi kami, and sobrang gigil kami na maukha 'yung ring," said Ferrer.
He stressed that it will be a step-by-step process for the Tigers, who are now counting on Aljon Mariano and Abdul to be their leader as Teng is now in the pros.
"One step at a time," said Ferrer. "Elimination muna, then Final Four, Finals, and then ring. Hindi muna kami mago-overlook, na Finals na agad, kasi alam naman namin na every team, nagpe-prepare para sa title na 'yun."