MANILA, Philippines – Two teams that are hitting their stride at the perfect time will battle for the crown in what is sure to be an explosive UAAP Season 76 Finals.
The De La Salle Green Archers, after taking time to adjust to a new coach and a new system, have won nine consecutive games. Arguably the deepest team in the league, new heroes step up for La Salle seemingly every game as they marched to the first finals appearance since Season 71.
The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers, meanwhile, endured an up-and-down season but are peaking at the right time. This group of battle-tested veterans overcame the defending champions, and then the number one seed, as they roared all the way to their second straight Finals stint.
To make things even more interesting, the best-of-three Finals will be a family affair as UST’s Jeric Teng will face off against his brother, Jeron Teng of La Salle.
UST and La Salle were also the last two teams to win the UAAP men’s basketball crown before Ateneo won five consecutive championships. The Tigers won it all in Season 69, and La Salle took home the trophy in Season 70.
Here’s how UST and La Salle match-up against each other:
La Salle entered the season with a lot of question marks hanging over the team. On paper, the Green Archers were one of the deepest and most talented teams in the UAAP, but they switched coaches with just two weeks to go before the season started, when assistant coach Juno Sauler took over for Gee Abanilla.
It took time for La Salle to completely come together as a team, but once they did, the Green Archers were off to the races. After a 3-4 record at the end of the first round, they swept all seven games in the second round, and then defeated the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in a playoff to gain the second seed.
Against FEU in the Final Four, La Salle got a balanced scoring effort and overhauled an 11-point third quarter deficit as they marked their return to the Finals.
UST endured a difficult season, with Jeric Teng suffering a shoulder injury just three games into the tournament when he was infamously bumped by National University’s Jeoffrey Javillonar. Teng would miss for five games, and the Tigers spent most of the elimination round in the middle of the pack, always at the brink of elimination.
But the “Comeback Cats,” as they were known last season, had one more push left in them. They ousted defending champions Ateneo in their last game of the season, then shocked the top-seeded National University Bulldogs in the Final Four as they advanced to the championship.
UST thus made history, as they became only the first No. 4 seed to defeat the No. 1 team and overcome a twice-to-beat disadvantage in the Final Four.
La Salle and UST kicked off the UAAP Season 76 men’s basketball tournament in style, with the Growling Tigers edging the Green Archers in overtime in the very first game of the season.
UST was the more composed team in crunch time, and Karim Abdul and Jeric Teng hit key shots to power the Tigers to a 63-58 victory.
That game saw UST and La Salle combine for 43 turnovers, and La Salle’s Teng fouled out with a minute to go in regulation, finishing with 10 points. He was outplayed by his brother, as Jeric fired 23 points in the game.
La Salle got their revenge in the second round, nailing a close 69-64 victory that allowed them to remain in contention for a twice to beat advantage at the time.
The Green Archers led by as much as 14 points in the third quarter, but UST pushed back and got within two points with five minutes remaining in the game.
It was Jeron Teng and LA Revilla who came to La Salle’s rescue, hitting crunch time baskets that allowed the Green Archers to finally pull away.
It is the fifth time that La Salle and UST will meet in the UAAP Finals. UST won their first three encounters in 1994, 1995 and 1996, but La Salle won their series in 1999.
“It’s not gonna be easy. UST is a really strong team. Kita niyo naman, tinalo pa nila ‘yung NU na twice-to-beat. UST is really a tough team.” – La Salle’s Jeron Teng.
“Since last year, dikit ‘yung laban namin with La Salle. Kung hindi overtime, buzzer beater. Siguro medyo even ‘yung match-ups namin. Medyo malaki sila, kami medyo mabilis. I think magandang match-up ito.” – UST’s Jeric Teng.