By: Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
YES, the young and surging UST Growling Tigers squad ousted the UP Fighting Maroons out of finals contention, and they did it with a bunch of new guys.
Coach Aldin Ayo’s mayhem offense was too much for coach Bo Perasol’s half-court sets, as UST swept all four games against UP, including the last two in the semifinals.
The unbelievable run by the young UST squad composed of promising rookies and their sophomore captain is maybe the most compelling story this year in collegiate basketball.
Two rookies tagged as “The Probinsyanos,” Mark Nonoy and Rhenz Abando; MVP big man Soulemane Chabi Yo, who was the revelation in Season 82; sophomore team captain CJ Cansino, and clutch senior Rhenzo Subido ran like a well-oiled artillery.
Full of doubts, sports analysts did not even anticipate this UST team to be good and to run so deep in the playoffs, much less reach the finals and face the “Kings of the UAAP” in the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
As the season started, coach Ayo’s squad performed and delivered every night, surprising teams including a nail-biting loss to the Blue Eagles that silenced their haters and doubters, telling the world that this UST team is for real.
As the games progressed, a distinct chemistry was slowly building in UST, and it showed every night as they played every game like it was their last.
Ayo’s role was very crucial to the team as the one who bound the different natures of each player who came from different places and different systems.
With UP’s downfall to the upcoming Growling Tigers squad, all hard work paid off bigtime and it proved one thing – that UST is an excellent team.
What’s amazing is that the rookies in UST were made with nerves of steel and are never afraid of the bright lights.
Abando and Nonoy played their hearts out during the do-or-die game, and it showed how quickly their fire inside ignited for them to deliver.
In the 8th minute mark, with UP on a roll and looking to pull away after making a huge run, Nonoy, with all the courage and the confidence, shot the ball from way downtown that eventually went in and quickly put out the fire that UP was about to ignite.
The term “pamatay-sunog” was the exact description of what Nonoy did, including another three that answered a big basket from Bright Akhuetie that prevented another UP run.
Abando on the other hand, went to the cup as much as he wanted, using his length and athleticism that scored the crucial lay-up that cut UP’s lead to two in the 1-minute mark.
With the team coach Ayo assembled, is this enough to take down the mighty Ateneo squad? Are they going to be the first team to rust the Blue Eagle’s 14-0 record?
The task isn’t easy, as the Ateneo squad is also led by one of the best UAAP coaches Philippine basketball has ever witnessed, coach Tab Balwin.
The bout will be a question of hunger and will. Who’s hungrier? Who’s more willing to sacrifice his body to the floor for the leather?
With all that, it is still fair enough to say, that we will witness a heck of a basketball series between the two.