No Tomorrow: UST vs DLSU in Game 3
This is for all the marbles. After a grueling season that saw a champion dethroned, a team sweep the first round but falter in the second, and a number one seed upset by the fourth seed in the Final Four, University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University have pushed their UAAP Season 76 Finals showdown to a decisive third game.
Back to the future
Renewing a rivalry that resulted in four straight UAAP Finals clashes in the 1990s, the Growling Tigers and Green Archers have scratched and clawed their way to a Game Three to determine which school will be the new champions in men’s basketball.
Entering this Finals series, La Salle was the favorite after dispatching Far Eastern University in just two games and riding the wave of a nine game winning streak. On the other hand, UST had to go through the virtual eye of the needle, upsetting National University who held a twice-to-beat advantage to enter the Finals. The Tigers thus became the first fourth seed in the Final Four era to upset the top seed.
Game One down to the wire
Despite these opposing paths to the Promised Land, both squads couldn’t wait to stamp their class over the other. In just the first game of the Finals, Coach Pido Jarencio’s Growling Tigers built an early 17-point lead to send the supporters from Espana into a frenzy. But La Salle was not going to take this sitting down, battling their way back before halftime.
By the time the fourth period began, the Green Archers of Coach Juno Sauler had taken a 54-50 advantage. It had become a war of attrition between the two sides as King Tiger Jeric Teng reeled off five straight points to hand his squad the lead once more. While Karim Abdul and “Hefty Lefty” Jason Perkins exchanged their own scores, it would be a booming triple from a former high school superstar that would give the Black and Gold a four point lead.
Kevin Ferrer, relied on all season long for his defense, uncorked the triple that would give UST a 73-69 advantage. Despite Jeron Teng responding with a three point play of his own and a bungled inbound play between Ferrer and Aljon Mariano, La Salle would not be able to capitalize. Almond Vosotros missed a triple, and Abdul wiped away LA Revilla’s attempt at an offensive putback to give the Tigers a 73-72 win in the crucial Game One.
Responding with a vengeance in Game Two
Smarting from the Game One defeat, Sauler’s crew was determined to get back into the series to win their first championship since 2007. On a Saturday that saw traffic ruining pregame preparations for both sides and late arrivals at the historic Araneta Coliseum, early foul trouble to Abdul and back-up center Paulo Pe allowed the DLSU trio of Perkins, Arnold Van Opstal, and Norbert Torres to wreak havoc in the paint.
An offensive explosion from Jeric Teng to the tune of 28 points kept Santo Tomas within striking distance, but La Salle maintained a 41-33 lead at the half. Each team mounted separate runs in the third canto, yet La Salle maintained a 64-53 lead after three.
By the time the final period rolled around, it was becoming increasingly clear that UST was not going to be able to bring down the balloons inside the Big Dome. Van Opstal and the younger Teng, Jeron, provided the knockout blows that eventually resulted in a 77-70 victory in Game Two.
One last game
Just like their classic Finals encounters of the 1990s, the Archers and the Tigers now see themselves playing in one final game. Gone are the days of Dennis Espino, Udoy Belmonte, Rommel David, and Coach Aric del Rosario on the UST side who clashed against the teams of Mark Telan, Don Allado, Dino Aldeguer, and Coach Franz Pumaren for DLSU.
In 2013, the fates of these two teams might boil down to the performance of the two Teng siblings on opposite sides of this titanic encounter. Even as the older Jeric tries to end his collegiate career with a championship, the younger Jeron looks to claim his own glory at the expense of his brother.
Abdul has already stated his annoyance at not being allowed to play defense with the same freedom that he claims Van Opstal got in the second game, but the Cameroonian center will have to play with ferocity for the entire contest if the Tigers are to raise the trophy at the Mall of Asia Arena. Same goes for forwards Mariano and Ferrer, two talented players for sure who have to impose their will on the Archers to reclaim the title they last won in 2006.
Even as rumors swirl that Jarencio is being considered for the head coaching position of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the PBA, the outspoken mentor insists his focus is still on delivering the goods for his alma mater. On the opposing bench, rookie coach Sauler stands on the verge of bringing a title back to Taft Avenue just as he did when he was an Archer in the 90s.
Fasten your seatbelts, everyone. This promises to be a classic.