University of Santo Tomas clinched the last final berth in UAAP men’s basketball by holding off National University, 76-69, Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Growling Tigers had to beat the Bulldogs twice for the right to face De La Salle University for championship.
UST beat NU, 71-62 in Game 1, to force the do-or-die game before an estimated 18,000 crowd.
“I never thought we would be playing in the finals because many people are doubting us,” said a teary-eyed UST head coach Pido Jarencio. “NU gave us a tough fight and I’m really happy my players responded well. I just can’t explain how happy I am.”
The Growling Tigers made UAAP history as the first fourth seed team to beat a No. 1 seed.
The best-of-three championship series starts Wednesday.
After the Tigers ended the first quarter ahead, 19-10, the Bulldogs unleashed a 12-2 run to tie the count at halftime, 31-all.
The game remained close until the end of third period, with UST nursing a 50-49 edge.
But Jamil Sheriff scored a big lay-up after an NU turnover to provide UST a 69-61 cushion with 53.8 seconds left in the game.
UST sealed the win after NU committed back-to-back turnovers in the last 30 seconds.
This is UST’s second straight finals appearance. The Tigers lost to defending champion Ateneo de Manila University last year.
Skipper Jeric Teng scored 19 points, Kevin Ferrer added 18 and Aljon Mariano 12 to lead the Growling Tigers.
JOSEF T. RAMOS