BIG time players thrive in big moments.
Veteran playmaker Renzo Subido and MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo did just that for University of Santo Tomas last night.
Proving steadier down the stretch, the fourth-ranked Growling Tigers eked out a breathtaking 68-65 squeaker over the No. 2 University of the Philippines in their do-or-die match in the stepladder semifinals and clinched a finals slot in the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament before a wild and roaring crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A Kobe Paras shot gave UP a 65-61 lead with 1:53 to go in the fourth quarter before UST rookie Rhenz Abando made it a 63-65 game in the last 1:14.
The Tigers’ swarming defense forced Maroons’ Ricci Rivero to commit a ball-hogging violation with 1:03 remaining.
Subido, isolated against UP’s 6-foot-8 Nigerian center Bright Akhuetie, sank a backbreaking three-pointer that gave UST a 66-65 cushion, 23.6 seconds to play.
Chabi Yo canned two-pressure packed free throws after Javi Gomez de Liaño missed on a putback, only 4.4 ticks left.
The Maroons still had a chance to force overtime but James Spencer’s triple try was nowhere near the rim at the buzzer as the Tigers’ faithful erupted in frenzy and UP’s suffered in agony.
In front of 18,548 fans, the 6-foot-6 Chabi Yo led UST with a game-high 22 points, to go with 16 rebounds while Subido chipped in 14 markers, four boards, and two assists.
Rookie of the Year Mark Nonoy and Abando also had 12 and 11 points, respectively, as the Tigers advanced to the Big Dance for the first time in four years against defending two-time champion and unbeaten Ateneo.
The Maroons, who were tipped to contend for the title after reaching the finals last season, saw their campaign end in heartbreaking fashion.
Game 1 of the best-of-3 titular showdown is set on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
UST came off an 89-69 drubbing of UP that negated the Maroons’ twice-to-beat advantage in the semis last Nov. 10.
Despite winning all their four games against the Maroons this season, Tigers coach Aldin Ayo admitted his charges were given fits by UP.
“That was a good game. We have to give credit to coach Bo (Perasol) and his coaching staff for the adjustments that they made. It was really tough for us because of their adjustments and na-negate iyong mga ginagawa namin,” said Ayo.
“We tried to counter. We were able to get our shots kaya lang hindi pumapasok but I kept telling the boys to keep on taking those shots kasi iyon naman talaga ang mga tira na itinitira namin. Towards the end, it was anybody’s ballgame,” he added.
The black and gold of España came out with guns blazing and led 20-8 on a Nonoy basket at the 9:24 mark of the second canto.
Refusing to lie down and die, the Maroons battled back and trimmed the deficit to 28-29 at the half and 44-49 going into the payoff period.