SLAM PH Rewatch: UST foiled FEU’s Finals sweep

We all got nothing but time.

That’s why the SLAM PH Team decided to rewatch some of their favorite UAAP, PBA and NBA games. They dug up buried emotions, watched out for things that they missed and basically enjoyed two hours of good basketball.

Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Throughout the 82-year history of UAAP basketball, only four teams have managed to win the Seniors Division basketball title 10 times or more. Leading the pack are the FEU Tamaraws, whose program boasts 20 championships, cementing its reputation as one of the best in league history.

However, the Tamaraws’ latest championship back in 2015 wasn’t exactly smooth sailing as they had to earn the trophy against the UST Growling Tigers, outlasting their counterparts from Espana in a hard-earned, gut-wretching, three-game classic.

Yet, that series wasn’t supposed to go the distance. By all intents and purposes, FEU was supposed to dispatch UST in two games, sweeping their way towards the championship.

After flexing their muscle with an 11-point Game 1 win, the Tamaraws also took control of Game 2, gunning for the crown via a sweep.

Flexing their advantage in size, it was the bigs of FEU imposing their will underneath as they crashed the boards and physically dominated against their counterparts underneath. Mac Belo, Raymar Jose and Prince Orizu provided the muscle and hustle for the Tamaraws early on. Even though he played the small forward, Roger Pogoy had enough size and heft to also do battle in the paint, while also sniping from the outside to keep the defense honest.

UST still had Karim Abdul, who was a perennial MVP contender, as the team’s top weapon in the shaded lane. Yet in his final season of eligibility, he was playing in the shadow of his former self. He often got lost in pick and roll situations on defense, and often got blocked as he took his shots against the FEU bigs. This was unlike his earlier years in the UAAP, where and Abdul attack within five feet of the basket usually resulted in a bucket, or even an and-one most of the time.

With the UST center struggling on both ends, it was Tigers’ wingmen who carried the fight early on in Game 2. Carrying on with the tradition of tall and rangy players manning the perimeter spots for UST, Kevin Ferrer and Louie Vigil, both former MVPs back in high school, managed to exploit mismatches on the floor. Both players had the ability to post up smaller guards, while being quick enough to leave bigger yet plodding defenders in exploding to the cup. Add in Ed Daquioag, who had deceptive athleticism and unusual length for a point guard, was also having a bounce back game of sorts after an unforgettable outing in the opener.

Game 2 was looking like a frontline versus perimeter battle especially that FEU’s guard corps of Mike Tolomia, Francis Tamsi, Achi Inigo and Norbert Arong all had difficulty on the offensive end.

With that match-up set for both teams, FEU took control in the first half half, 30-21, and looked poised to take the trophy back home to Morayta. UST looked vulnerable, an easy prey ready to be gored and finished off by the Tamaraws.

Then the explosion happened in the second half. Thanks to a shower of trifectas followed by his wagging tongue, Ferrer’s barrage allowed the Growling Tigers to reclaim their stripes and get back in the game. Each time he hoisted a shot from beyond the arc, it looked like it was going in, even against the toughest defense. And mostly, it did. Ferrer hit six triples in the third quarter alone, bombing the FEU advantage to bits.

His 24-point blast allowed UST to turn the tide in their favor entering the game’s final 12 minutes, as they took a 47-41 lead into the fourth. But even though the momentum was on the Tigers’ side, this didn’t mean that FEU was going to roll over and look to the next game. It was only a manageable six-point deficit and there was still an entire period of basketball to be played.

The Tams did just that. They pounced on the Tigers with Ferrer being forced to the sidelines because of foul trouble in the final period. Once again capitalizing on their inside strength, FEU recaptured the lead with less than five minutes remaining courtesy of Jose, who made three successive baskets to push his team up, 54-50.

Having been able to extinguish the fiery rally of the Tigers and with their their opponent’s best weapon, Ferrer, stuck on the bench, all FEU needed to do was to take care of the basketball, play solid defense, and remain focused on feeding it inside to their big men to sustain the offense. If they did all that, the game, as well as the crown, was theirs.

Despite this impressive comeback, however, the rest of the quarter saw the Tamaraws falling into a hole. Foul trouble and injuries prevented Orizu and Pogoy from finishing the game. Instead of a strong finishing kick, FEU displayed porous defensive execution and ill-advised shot attempts. This was evident in the waning moments of the game wher the team could’ve gotten back the lead after giving it away.

On the other hand, UST did well enough to maintain its composure as they were able to withstand the absence of Ferrer by coming up with key stops and collaring crucial boards during this stretch. He may have had his woes on the offensive end, but Abdul was somehow able to make up for it by snagging rebounds and repeatedly getting fouled leading to key charities down the line. This allowed UST to avoid getting swept earning a tough 62-56 decision, setting the stage for Game 3.

While FEU eventually won the Season 78 men’s basketball championship in three games, it still would have been more fitting had the Tamaraws dispatched the Tigers in Game 2. They had all the opportunities to put UST away. But a fiery performance from Ferrer combined with clutch plays from Abdul and the rest of the title prevented that sweep.

Game 2 of the Season 78 UAAP Finals is a game that gets lost in the shuffle. Now, given a second look, the Growling Tigers proved what a ton of grit and a spot of hot-shooting can win a pressure-packed Finals game.

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