All you need to know from the start of the step-ladder semi finals
The UST Tiger Cubs defy the odds and win two straight do or die games
Just last week, people were already counting the UST Tiger Cubs out of the Final Four already. At that point, they were 1-5 during the second round, with losses to the UPIS Junior Maroons and the DLSZ Junior Archers stinging the most. Not only did they lose those games, but they were also on the verge of losing their slot at the Final Four.
They wound up winning versus the FEU Baby Tamaraws, giving themselves one more chance at going deep into the playoff rounds. The odds weren’t in their favor, but they could have cared less.
If there’s something the Tiger Cubs could have given up for the Lenten Season during Ash Wednesday, it was probably losing. Despite the swirl of controversies and drama the team has had to face over the course of the season, the entire Tiger Cubs team stuck together and pulled off a one point, overtime win versus the Adamson Baby Falcons, 73-72.
Those kinds of wins are fulfilling, but also draining. Your legs aren’t just on the verge of giving up, but you’re mentally exhausted as well, no thanks to the whirlwind of emotions you have to face in such a highly contested game.
The Tiger Cubs could have cared less, as they subjected themselves to another thriller, this time versus FEU. The Baby Tamaraws had the edge with their experience in such high stakes games, but it didn’t really matter when they faced UST. It was a nip and tuck affair all throughout, with both teams’ main players struggling for most of the game. But UST pulled through, with the breaks of the game going their way as well enough to come out with an 81-80 victory to advance versus NU.
It’s easy to point to CJ Cansino for UST’s success, but even more vital with UST was how their other players responded amidst adversity. Kobe Palencia (15 points, six rebounds, three steals) and Bismarck Lina (12 points, 12 rebounds) shined versus the Baby Falcons, while was the Rayjhun Baquial (13 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Liam Manabat (12 points, 4/6 3FG) who did work versus the Baby Tamaraws.
The Tiger Cubs love the challenge of the do or die. They face it once more on Tuesday when they go up against the NU Bullpups. It’s a tougher challenge, but they have one of the best players in the league with them in Cansino. Even better? His other teammates are finding their stride as well when it matters the most.
The big names (at least most of them) put on a show
We won’t burn down LJay Gonzales in this segment despite going 3/15 in his final game as a Baby Tamaraw. He doesn’t deserve that. It was a good run by the former Finals MVP.
Instead, let’s give some love to some of the other big names who tried to carry their teams (for the case of one of them, they did carry their team) deeper into the playoffs.
One such player who made a good account of himself was Joem Sabandal. He did so in the most Sabandal way possible, by straight up stuffing the stat sheet with 20 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals. He still has one more year, and considering the immense growth the entire team went through this season, it won’t be surprising if Adamson contends for a championship while Sabandal tries to give it a go for MVP.
Another player who came up big was RJ Abarrientos, who did his best to try and make up for the struggles of his backcourt buddy Gonzales. He didn’t stuff the stat sheet as much as he did during the elimination round, but he was on fire for most of the game. He scored 24 points on 9/19 shooting, while making five threes in his last game as a Baby Tamaraw.
Finally, we can’t forget the MVP, CJ Cansino, in this conversation. Never mind that he averaged 7.5 turnovers per game for the two do or die games they had. Those stats won’t matter (for now at least) as long as his team gets the W.
Versus Adamson, he was efficient overall offensively, scoring 24 points on 8/15 shooting while getting to the lines 11 times. He also grabbed nine rebounds while continuing to show his growth as a playmaker by dishing out six assists.
Against the Baby Tamaraws, it was a little tougher for Cansino as he was only limited to 18 points on 7/18 shooting. But he more than made up for it with the little things in the basketball court. He was a monster on the boards, grabbing a game-high 16 rebounds while dishing out five assists in the process. Those things aren’t the glossiest values, but they matter a lot in big moments. Just like his two other contemporaries, Cansino shone and provided big time when it mattered the most.
Hey UST, you guys are underdogs again! They could care less, but it matters to talk about why when talking about this match-up versus UST and NU.
There’s no doubt about it that UST has the best player in this match-up in Cansino. But we also cannot question the fire power of NU, who have the league’s best offense (96.15 points per 100 possessions). Rhayyan Amsali is the forefront of these conversations thanks to his all-around game, but Miguel Oczon and Terrence Fortea also deserve some love when talking about the fire power of NU.
In that case, it’s on the defensive end which will spell the difference for the Bullpups. In order to do that, RJ Minerva and Paul Manalang will have to be at their very best in hounding Cansino.
Both players present different kinds of looks for the Bullpups. Minerva is a lengthy wing who can match Cansino in terms of physical tools, while having enough reach to be a help defender. Manalang, on the other hand, thrives as a one on one defender who is one of the peskiest players in High School Basketball. Just ask SJ Belangel. If they’re able to lock in defensively, then that’s already one part of the battle won for NU.
With the game plan at stopping UST clearly being “stop CJ Cansino at all costs!”, the other players of UST will have to step up as teams try to shut down their captain. On that note, all eyes will be on Palencia and Lina to provide the goods for UST.
Palencia is the one who will likely be open along the wings as Cansino drives to the hole. He’s the team’s second best scorer as well as three-point shooter (12 made threes), while he’s also a more than capable passer when the need arises (2.4 assists). On the other hand, Lina will be the big man down low who could be open for the drop pass when defenders double Cansino. He’s their third leading scorer, but it’s his rebounding which is most valuable for UST (11.2 RPG).
This series will probably not be as lopsided as some may project it to be. UST is peaking at the right time after struggling during the 2nd half of the season, while NU is not without its holes. Don’t be surprised if this games goes to a do or die on February 23, Friday, but all things considered, the more likely scenario is for NU to finish it off in a thriller on Tuesday to set-up a grudge match with long-time rivals Ateneo.