One word that summed up the Cinderella run of the Espana-based cagers in the recently concluded Men’s basketball Finals for the 78th season of the UAAP after the UST Tigers ran out of gas against the FEU Tamaraws on December 2.
But the A-word has gone like a broken record for the Yellow crowd in Espana for this is not the first time the Tigers had a bridesmaid finish for a season. In fact, this team was slapped with THREE runners up finishes in four years alone.
With that kind of pain and frustration lurking around the campus of UST, one can’t help but ask: Do the basketball gods hate UST so much?
“It was a bittersweet feeling,” Jerah Matawa, 3rd Year Marketing major said. Matawa was one who witnessed UST’s downfall for this year.
“You can see how much the players poured their hearts out during the game,” IICS freshman Isabel Macaraeg said. “Seeing the results made it a thousand times harder to move on.”
But this UAAP season has turn the tables for this team.
In the beginning of Season 78, where sports analysts have predicted a “dismal performance” for the Tigers after missing the limelight in season 77. People “knew” that they will end in 5th or 6th place only. But where were the tigers after the eliminations? They were at the number one spot, armed with a twice-to-beat advantage.
Surprised? The UST Crowd was, too. But what is in the UST Tigers this season that turned them into a heat-building team in the court?
“UST’s line up this year was flexible,” Third year Computer Science major Kyle Cancio said. The Tigers sharing their roles and the ball inside the court made a huge difference this season. “Unlike last year, they rely on only on key players to make the play.”
UST lost key scorers in the likes of Jeric Fortuna, Jeric Teng, Clark Bautista and Aljon Mariano in three years. However, the Tigers still have their offensive sleeves intact lead by Kevin Ferrer and Ed Daquioag, two of the top scorers in UAAP today.
UST is fifth when it comes to offense averaging 68 points per game in the first round, while allowing their opponents only 61 pts a game, thus, making the Tigers’ an all-around team to watch out for.
Nhuj Pascua, sports editor of TomasinoWeb, says the Tigers’ improvement on three-point shooting was an advantage despite being dead last in terms of rebounds. “Nagawan pa rin nila ng paraan para makarating sa finals.”
But UST’s line up wasn’t exactly that deep as compared to previous seasons, probably the reason why a lot of people predicted that it could be another season 77 for the Tigers.
For Mariejo Gabuyo, a Finance major, last season’s line up was better. “Behind tayo sa schools pag titignan yung line-up.” She says.
Even Joseph Silverio, a sports photographer and an alumnus of the UST Yellow Jackets, never thought that this year’s roster was ‘solid.’ “I am very impressed that Kevin Ferrer, and Ed Daquioag stepped up their game and lead the team to the finals. Louie Vigil also surprised me this year.”
But besides the basketball technicalities, what made the UST Tigers into the UST Tigers that everybody knows today? And what was their key in returning in the finals?
For some, the transition from team to “family” made all the difference this year. And it was team captain Kevin Ferrer who took initiative on taking the team’s connection in to a deeper level. The UST crowd took note of this, too.
“Mas coherent, mas close, mas bonded, mas united yung team ngayon,” UST Alumnus Cedrick Basco said. In most interviews with Kevin Ferrer and the rest of the Tigers, seldom they would say “team” or “teammates.”
Daquioag told ABS-CBN that it Kevin started this family tie between them during one of their team buildings. “Kapag buo talaga yung family mo, mahirap kang talunin.” He told ABS-CBN.
The Family mantra has done well for the Tigers. They finished the elimination round with only three losses and gave them an outright semi-finals berth.
Leadership was another missing piece filled in Season 78. Kevin Ferrer led the team like a big brother. He made his presence as a leader felt throughout the season. For Basco, Ferrer’s leadership has made a huge change in the team. “Nakikinig sa kanya yung mga teammates niya, kapag medyo di na naaayos yung play he would remind them o ganto gawin natin”
Aside from Ferrer, Daquioag also stepped up and became UST’s go-to-guys during games. After years of being in the shadows of Teng, Mariano and the like, Ed finally found his groove for the Tigers and became a monstrous scorer upon opening season. Rookies Marvin Lee, Embons Bonleon, along with Louie Vigil and Jamil Sheriff also delivered well for UST.
But behind every lay-up, every three pointer, and every game, and even after three runners up finishes. One thing has never changed in Espana: The UST crowd.
“Yun sixth man kasi yun talaga ang nagpapabuhay sa amin,” UST Head Coach Bong dela Cruz said. The UST crowd, or sixth man, has been a huge factor for the team for many years. Just this season, the crowd filled half of the Mall of Asia Arena, the entire Quadricentennial Pavillion and lobbies of the UST buildings.
“Dapat din natin i-commend yung crowd kasi parang sila ‘yung nagtataas ng morale ng players especially pag down sila,” Pascua said.
The UST crowd has also taken its support in social media, creating hashtags on twitter to show their support for the Tigers. In 2013, they used #NotToday in facing three do-or-die games to reach the finals. For this year, it was #WalangIwananUST, a cry to keep the support alive despite the loss.
“We will forever be the best crowd, kahit wala sa araneta or MOA, kahit sa office, school or kahit san there will be a Thomasian na sumisigaw sa bawat shoot ng Tigers.” Basco said.
With the graduation of Ferrer, Daquioag, Abdul and Sheriff and with season 78 written in the books, what lies ahead for the Tigers?
For Gabuyo, she’s not expecting a repeat of season 77, where the Tigers settled for 6th place with a 5-9 card. However, she’s not putting up high hopes considering the other schools’ new coaches.
Silverio wants the “No heart. No chance” mantra to stay with the tigers. “I expect them to still have that killer instinct and the heart to win.”
Next season will be another tough road for the Tigers. An elusive championship could be a little farfetched for now, but miracles may happen. The test of loyalty for the Tigers and its sixth man continues. But the UST faithful has one answer to the question: Will you be there for next season?
The answer will always be “Yes.” #
This was my Final examination for Narrative Journalism last semester.Thank you to Nhuj Pascua for editing this article. 😀