Six years ago in a majestic season, the UST Growling Tigers completed a Cinderella run by capturing the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Men's Basketball crown, the most coveted in all of the Philippines' collegiate sports. Beating a surging Ateneo De Manila University squad in three games for the championship was their most major accomplishment in nearly ten years. That championship spirit then went weak for the next six years.
Now, at the current season, 75, the Tigers have donned their sharpest look for the first time since 2006. After heartbreaking Final Four exits in the past few seasons, the Tigers have corralled themselves once again. With a rejuvenated roster that grown into maturity, the Tigers are slowly sneaking in to create another Cinderella story for the gold. What would it take for them to win it all? Here are 5 vital keys.
UST are dynamos in the first quarter. Led by a decent starting unit, the Tigers are sharp from the opening tip off. By the numbers, UST won the first quarters of most of their games. But, problems arise as soon as head coach Pido Jarencio begins playing his deck. After a series of good defenses, the Tigers would usually collapse and blow a lead, enabling their opponents to capitalize and gain momentum. This has been the theme of the past six years. However, with several games this season decided by comebacks and blowouts, the Tigers have proven a huge point, their showtime spirit is in perfect place and it's up to them to hone it even more. Energy for 40 minutes on both ends of the floor is a vital component for them to win it all.
From my own perspective, the Tigers' Final Four companions are boosted by their guards. Keifer Ravena of Ateneo, RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo of Far Eastern University, Ray Parks of National University and the Archer connection of Jeron Teng and LA Revilla from De La Salle University. These guys are massive perimeter players who look to cut down defenses with the dribble. The first line of defense would be a good perimeter showing. Not allowing these boys to penetrate and simply settle in for jumpers or feed their big men would be a huge boost for the Tigers.
Jeric Teng, Aljon Mariano and Kevin Ferrer are three names that were huge all season long. From Teng and Mariano's shooting to Ferrer's intangibles, these three men are vital for their team's success as of late, and they will be counted on in the Final Four.
These three players are capable of exploding to the rim and breaking down defenses of any kind. With Mariano and Teng averaging 13.5 and 12.4 points per game, respectively, a good offensive balance is part of the Tigers' arsenal.
Ferrer has not played well compared to his rookie season offensively, but the kid has championship experience from the juniors that would make him an impact when faced up against a strong opponent. His scoring is doubtful, but his hustle, tips and defense still make him stand out.
Jeric Fortuna grew up with the Tigers. Now that his playing years are nearing their close, it is right that Fortuna give back to the team that made him. Leading the league in assists with 5.48 dimes per ball game, it is crystal clear that he has the reins of the Tigers' offense. With all that hard work and a sweet shooting touch tucked under his belt, Fortuna would be fortunate enough to explode in this year's Final Four. Right place, right time.
Fortuna is a decent scorer with 8.92 points per game and an impressive clutch factor. When defensive teams like the Ateneo Blue Eagles and FEU Tamarraws settle into the zone, Fortuna will surely be the man to beat.
The only thing you can ask from a guy who is already in the top 5 in scoring, rebounding and blocking shots is to win a championship for your team.
Karim Abdul has been a revelation this season for the Tigers. With his huge and strong impact on the floor, he has been UST's go to guy both in offense and in defense. Abdul has been on the tails of Parks (NU) and Slaughter (ADMU) in the MVP race all year.
For the UST Tigers to scratch a gold this year, coach Jarencio would be wise to prepare Abdul's back for one hell of a ride.