By Icy M. Luzano
IT COULD not get any closer than this.
The Growling Tigers forced the UST Champions to work in a pulsating exhibition match that ended at 97-97 in regulation last July 5.
Down by as much as 13 points in the second quarter, the alumni team battled to regain the lead, 82-81, midway into the fourth quarter behind a close-range bucket from Red Bull Barako guard Cyrus Baguio.
UST assistant coach Lester del Rosario, a former Growling Tiger, exchanged three-pointers with Growling Tigers rookie Dylan Ababou, forcing a see-saw end-game battle.
Ababou’s second trey handed the lead to the Tigers, 95-94, with 1:20 remaining.
Del Rosario, who scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth period, retaliated with a long bomb to give the veterans a two-point lead, 97-95, with less than a minute left in the game.
A steal and a lay-up by Warren de Guzman evened the count. The UST Champions failed to score in the final possession despite three offensive rebounds.
Baguio topped his professional career high of 21 points, putting up his own show for a game-high 38 markers.
Five of the nine UST Champions (members of the “four-peat” teams from 1992-1996) scored double digits. Coca-Cola Tigers forward Gerard Francisco and Ginebra guard Aris Dimaunahan chipped in 12 points a piece, while Estong Ballesteros had 10.
De Guzman led the Growling Tigers with 13 points, while backcourt general Japs Cuan registered 10 markers.
Message to the Tigers
IPEA Athletic Moderator Felix Michael Silbor said the friendship game with UST’s “finest” in recent years was reliving “UST’s glory days.”
Champion coach Siot Tanquincen, who comes from these glory days, advised Reonel Parado’s wards to take advantage of their youth.
“This is a young team, so they must be more aggressive. They should always be competitive,” he said.
Francisco, on the other hand, said UST must take it one step at a time. “That’s how we did it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Baguio contested Parado’s prediction that UST will rank last in Season 68.
“Hindi naman. Mukhang may pag-asa sila na makapasok sa Final Four,” the flashy guard said.
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