By Jerome Lagunzad
Game Tuesday (The Arena, San Juan City)
4 p.m. — NU vs UST
(Stepladder semis, Bullpups with twice-to-beat bonus)
There is more to University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tiger Cubs than just MVP CJ Cansino.
Getting a big lift from Cansino’s reliable backups down the stretch, UST stunned defending champion Far Eastern University (FEU)-Diliman, 81-80, yesterday to sustain its remarkable playoff run in the UAAP Season 80 juniors basketball tournament at the Blue Eagle gym in Quezon City.
Down by 13 points with under five minutes left, Rayjhun Baquial, Liam Manabat and Kobe Palencia took turns in delivering the goods in their decisive 15-1 windup as the Tiger Cubs dethroned the Baby Tamaraws in the most stunning way possible.
Suddenly thriving with its back against the wall after winning its third knockout match in a week, UST is hoping it can still pull off some more surprises in the final phase of the stepladder semis against second-ranked and twice-to-beat holder National University on Tuesday at The Arena in San Juan City.
Cansino overcame an error-prone performance as he finished with team-highs of 18 points and 16 rebounds on top of five assists but Baquial, Manabat and Palencia who made the big plays on the offensive end for the Tiger Cubs.
After RJ Abarrientos drilled in his fifth triple that put the Baby Tams comfortably ahead at 79-66, the Tiger Cubs charged back hard by scoring 14 straight points, capped by Baquial bucket for a one-point advantage with 73 seconds to play.
A split by L-Jay Gonzales ended FEU’s dry spell and tied things up — for the seventh and last time — at 80-apiece, time down to just 31 seconds. UST, however, found a way to get back on top behind Palencia, who sank the first but missed the back-end of his freebies with nine seconds remaining.
Gonzales hauled down the leather but struggled to make it past the halfcourt line before suing for time, leaving the Baby Tams with just 1.2 ticks to map out the potential game-winning play.
Under duress, FEU’s Royce Alforque could not get a clear look as his last-gasp three-point try just hit the side of the rim just as the final buzzer sounded, leading to UST’s wild celebration.
Abarrientos led all scorers with 24 points, half of them coming in the final canto, but the Baby Tams sorely missed the usual production from Gonzales, a member of this year’s Mythical Team who struggled with just 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting and turned the ball over six times.
UST 81 — Cansino 18, Baquial 13, Narvasa 12, Manabat 12, Palencia 11, Villapando 6, Lina 4, Anunciacion 3, Relucio 2, Estrella 0, Dolendo 0, Benzonan 0.
FEU-DILIMAN 80 — Abarrientos 24, Torres 11, Gonzales 10, Alforque 9, Sajonia 8, Tolentino 6, Celzo 4, Ona 3, Bautista 3, Armendez 2.
Quarters: 20-15, 36-41, 53-62, 81-80.