After not even making the Final Four last year, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers dominated the defending champions National University (NU) Bulldogs, 64-55, in the battle of the 1-seed and four-seed in the Final Four of UAAP Season 78.
Led by an all-around performance from Louie Vigil who tied his career-high in points with 19 to go with 10 rebounds and seven assists, UST returned to the championship round after losing in the Finals in Season 75 and 76.
The Tigers started the game strong surprising the Bulldogs with a full-court pressure defensive gameplan and put NU in a double-digit hole, 15-2. NU responded however with a 10-0 run to end the quarter with the lead trimmed to three at 15-12.
In the second quarter, UST tried to widen the gap again using a 6-0 run capped by a Karim Abdul jumper to put the score at 21-12 with 7:46 to go. NU responded with two consecutive baskets fron Rev Diputado and Jeff Javillonar but the Espana-based cagers closed the quarter on another rally to end the first half leading again by double digits, 30-20.
Louie Vigil already tallied an all-around game at halftime with seven points, five rebounds and four assists to lead UST while Kevin Ferrer chipped in six points.
Backup point guard Rev Diputado led the way for NU with seven points at the half as star players Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino were held to three and two points respectively.
The Tigers maintained the deficit in the third quarter and added up on it using an 8-0 rally sparked by Louie Vigil who scored seven in the said run to push the lead to 15 points, with 1:32 to play. A Pao Javelona free throw and a Rodan Celda layup settled the score 44-32 before the start of the fourth.
The start of the final period saw UST post their biggest of the lead at 16, 48-32, after a Jon Sheriff floater and a Kevin Ferrer ankle-breaker and jumper on NU big man Kyle Neypes at the 6:44 mark. The Bulldogs managed to cut it the lead to 10 points, 52-42, at the 3:14 mark until they played the foul game by intentionally sending the abysmal shooter Sheriff to free throw stripe. The Fil-Canadian point guard attempted eight free throws in the span of a minute and only converted two while the Bulldogs capitalized by adding four points to their total via four Javelona free throws.
When Sheriff was subbed out, the Bulldogs fouled Karim Abdul and Marvin Lee who both split their free throws while NU answered with a layup from JJ Alejandro and from Javelona again to cut the lead to six points, 56-50, with 1:08 left to play. Two Abdul made free throws and three from Vigil that was only answered by two from Javelona again from the charity stripe pushed the lead to nine points, 61-52, with 45.8 to go. Wanting to extend his UAAP career, the graduating Javelona then hit a difficult step-back three-pointer to again cut the lead to six points but it would prove to be NU’s last points of the season. A free throw from Sheriff and two from Lee settled the victory for the Tigers who will face the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamarraws in the Finals showdown.
Kevin Ferrer chipped in 11 points for the Tigers to go with seven rebounds while Jon Sheriff contributed 10. Pao Javelona had a valiant but losing effort as he scored 17 points and seven rebounds while fellow graduating and go-to-guys Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino were held to seven and six points respectively with Alolino having a miserable 1-of-16 shooting clip.
UST: Vigil 19, Ferrer 11, Sheriff 10, Daquoiag 8, Abdul 6, Bonleon 5, Lee 5, Lao 0, Faundo 0.
NU: Javelona 17, Alejandro 8, Aroga 7, Alolino 6, Javillonar 5, Neypes 3, Celda 2, Abatayo 0, Salim 0, Morido 0.