Season 75 runner up University of Santo Tomas (UST) is expected to come back strong in this year’s edition of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament beginning on June 29 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
UST lost point guard Jeric Fortuna and power forward Melo Afuang but the Growling Tigers remain intact with holdovers Jeric Teng, Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer, Clark Bautista and Cameroonian Karim Abdul.
There are also some promising rookies in the lineup including frontliner Jon Macasaet, a former San Sebastian College-Recoletos Staglet, and Bryant So, who have both seen action in the preseason tournament.
Also included in the current roster are Eduardo Daquioag Jr., Kim Kaizen Lo, Paolo Lorenzo Pe, Sheak Jamil Sheriff, Robin Allan Tan, Kent Jefferson Lao and Robert Hainga.
The final composition of the team, however, will be known a few days before the tournament starts. It will be based on the recommendation of the coaching staff led by veteran mentor Pido Jarencio.
Last year, the Growling Tigers wrapped up the elimination round with 10-4 win-loss card to gain the No. 2 spot in the Final Four and a twice-to-beat advantage that goes with it.
They defeated No. 3 National University (NU), 63-57, in the Final Four to arrange a championship showdown with the Ateneo de Manila University.
UST, though, fell short against the Blue Eagles as the latter swept the best-of-three championship series with an 83-78 victory in Game 1 and 65-62 win in Game 2.
In the recently-concluded Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, UST finished fourth overall behind eventual champion University of the East, runner-up NU and third-placer San Beda College.
UST bowed to San Beda, the reigning National Collegiate Athletic Association champion, in their battle-for-third match via 70-74 decision.
“We learned a lot from our preseason tournament. We had several mistakes during our stint in the Filoil tournament and these mistakes will serve as our lessons come the UAAP season,” said Jarencio.
UST last won a championship trophy in 2006. Overall, UST has 19 titles including its domination of the 1939, 1940, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1967, 1988,1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 editions.
Emil C. Noguera