Welcome to The Rewind, where the Humblebola team looks back at the past and talks about details only a few may have noticed.

October 2, 2006. Favian Pua arrives in Araneta Coliseum for Game 3 of the Finals between the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles and the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. He recalls sitting with his college friends among a sea of blue in the Upper Box A section. Little did he know that in a few hours, he was about to experience the pinnacle of sports heartbreak.

Let’s Rewind and recall the UST Growling Tigers’ monumental upset in Season 69.

Prologue

In the vast savannah, you can hear a tiger’s roar from up to three kilometers away.

By the time the rest of the UAAP heard and took notice, it was already too late.

The Growling Tiger had already devoured its unsuspecting prey down to the bones.

Part 1

Puso. Pride. Palaban.

Those three words served as the battle cry of University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers Head Coach Pido Jarencio, and rightfully so. UST had fallen on hard times entering Season 69, failing to advance to the Final Four in four of the past five seasons. As Jarencio stepped in to fill in the position vacated by his predecessor, Nel Parado, there was a somber mood within the team that extended beyond the confines of the basketball court.

John Lee Apil, who was supposed to play his sophomore season with the España-based squad, passed away in a freak accident in his hometown in Solana, Tuguegarao. The team rallied around their fallen comrade and dedicated this season to something bigger than basketball. Winning games still mattered, but viewed in a different lens, it was no longer perceived as a matter of life and death.

Part 2

The University of the East Red Warriors, Season 69’s host school, began the season as the prohibitive favorite. With Bonbon Custodio, Mark Borboran, and Marcy Arellano leading the charge, the Red Warriors were touted as the team to beat, lording over the Micaba, Home and Away Invitational League, and Fr. Martin Cup during the preseason wars.

The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles were also considered a serious contender as the continuity built by fifth-year stalwarts JC Intal, Doug Kramer, and Macky Escalona were counted upon to duplicate their coronation as freshmen back in 2002. With the De La Salle University Green Archers serving a one-year suspension, this served as the perfect opportunity for the Loyola-based squad to deliver an emphatic statement to their rival and the rest of the UAAP.

Meanwhile, the Growling Tigers, who were coming off a 4-10 season, were expected to finish either sixth or seventh. In a truncated season where the double round-robin elimination format only consisted of 12 games instead of the standard 14, each victory and each defeat weighed more heavily. The margin for error was razor-thin, and every setback was more scrutinized and dissected.

UST’s roster was a ragtag bunch that was constructed to light up the scoreboard with point guards who revved the engines and pushed the pace. By no means were they Steve Nash or Leandro Barbosa of the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns during the mid-00s, but Japs Cuan and Jun Cortez would continually step on the accelerators and force opponents to backpedal on defense as soon as the Growling Tigers gain possession.

Team Captain Allan Evangelista is known as the go-to guy for his reliable three-point stroke, and before the season started, he also became accountable as the team’s undisputed leader and as Jarencio’s second voice on the court. Bulking up for the season, he committed to developing his inside game to force defenses to scramble when he opts not to fire away his patented downtown flurries.

Jervy Cruz, who was elevated from Team B, serves as the team’s hidden weapon. His presence alone does not command fear or intimidation, but he is a silent worker who presents so many matchup problems for opponents, as he draws bigger opponents out with his velvety midrange touch coupled with a frame that is capable of backing down smaller defenders.

Then there is Jarencio’s interchangeable platoon of wing players, comprising of Jemal Vizcarra, Francis Allera, Mel Gile, and Anthony Espiritu. Long-limbed and scrappy, each one of them serves as early prototypes of the 3-and-D guys that are so sought after in today’s game.

Dylan Ababou is the living embodiment of how a “tweener” forward can survive and thrive in a league where playing out of position can serve as a death knell. High school stars that have thrived at power forward but were forced to play small forward or shooting guard in the collegiate ranks showed notable drops in production and efficiency, but not in Ababou’s case. He is rangy enough to keep defenses honest, tough enough to battle with larger players inside, and smart enough to know when to become more aggressive and when to defer towards other teammates.

And then there is Jojo Duncil. Every basketball-crazy Atenean between his or her mid-20s and mid-30s makes that facial expression that comprises of a half-smile and a half-grimace at the mere mention of Duncil’s name. He is a one-man scoring run who, in the words of Uncle Drew, gets buckets.

Part 3

After going through the previous paragraphs, you would think that the Growling Tigers would be the odds-on favorite to go through Season 69 undefeated and unscathed.

Marvin Cruz said no.

The Growling Tigers dropped the first game of the season to the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in stunning fashion as Cruz sank a game-winning jumper with 0.3 ticks left, sending the UP bench into a frenzy. It was the tightest a game could possibly be without heading into overtime, as both teams had identical scoring outputs in the second, third, and fourth quarter. UP 94, UST 92.

Despite the loss, there were early signs of optimism. In his debut for Team A, Cruz tallied 16 points and 15 rebounds, as UST had a balanced offensive attack that saw six Growling Tigers score in double figures. They just could not muster one defensive stop that ultimately costed them the game.

Before UST could regroup, disaster struck. Literally.

Typhoon Florita descended on Manila, postponing UST’s upcoming match against the Adamson Soaring Falcons. The 11-day layoff forced UST to recalibrate and prepare for defending champions Far Eastern University Tamaraws. In the end, Ababou and Duncil staved off a furious Tamaraw rally late in the game en route to their first victory and Jarencio’s first at the helm. UST 90, FEU 87.

But just as things looked like they were about to get better, they got worse.

Vizcarra, who scored 14 points in the season opener, was declared out for the season after being diagnosed with an ACL tear, further dashing any hopes of the Growling Tigers seriously contending for a title this season.

Internally, it is impossible to gauge a team’s mettle after suffering a crushing blow to one of its best players. To further compound matters, they had a huge test coming up, a showdown against UE, who were clicking on all cylinders. With Vizcarra out, their best defender against James Martinez, UE’s backcourt of Martinez and Custodio was expected to run rings all game long.

Except the Red Warriors couldn’t. Duncil was found money during the second quarter and Cruz established his presence with another double-double showing as UST built a second quarter lead they would never relinquish. UST 91, UE 77.

“Maybe the Growling Tigers are for real.”

“The loss to UP was just a tiny blip in the radar.”

“UST has a real shot a championship.”

Small sample sizes can easily sway the narrative, and after defeating the defending champions and the prohibitive favorites, UST prematurely found themselves in the contender conversation. Operative word: Prematurely.

And as always, the sportscasters’ jinx strikes again.

Cooler heads did not prevail as tempers flared up when Duncil head-butted Dave Catamora of the National University Bulldogs in the waning seconds of defeat. UST simply had no answer for Edwin Asoro, who bullied his way repeatedly and left Jarencio scratching his head for answers. National U 98, UST 85.

With Duncil suspended, UST’s offense stagnated. The lack of offensive variety made the Growling Tigers bleed for their points, while Adamson’s Ken Bono and Leo Canuday’s scoring assault simply proved too much for UST to overcome. AdU 74, UST 62.

And finally, the much awaited statement game. Ateneo, still spotless at 5-0, stood atop the standings. This was the perfect opportunity for UST to recover lost ground and remind the rest of the UAAP that they were a force to reckon with. However, in 20 minutes of game time, the Blue Eagles were in cruise control and went ahead by 27 points at halftime 63-36. Instead of answering their doubters, the Growling Tigers were sent home questioning themselves once more. ADMU 114, UST 78.

Three games. Three consecutive blowout losses. The first round ended with UST at 2-4, a four-way tie for last place. The Cinderella run had quickly turned into a cat-and-mouse chase for survival.

Part 4

Hindsight is 20-20. Extrapolate a narrative deep enough and you will find inflection points that can determine when a story arc has shifted its course. However, in the heat of the moment, there is too much raw emotion and irrelevant data to sift through. For the Growling Tigers, who could only field nine players in their second round matchup against UE, that inflection point could not come any sooner.

But that moment would not come against UE. Without the services of league-leading scorer Duncil and Espiritu, rotations were scrambled with limited time to prepare. To make matters worse, UST simply went ice cold in the second quarter, scoring only 10 points as UE gradually pulled away. Despite repeated efforts from the Growling Tigers to draw closer, they simply dug themselves in too deep a hole to get out of.  UE 74, UST 63.

No team is immune from season-ending injuries or contagious diseases, but for UST, timing meant everything. The UE loss dropped them to league-worst 2-5 with only five games remaining. As FEU and Adamson inched closer to a Final Four berth, UST fell further out of the race. There was no time to point fingers or blame Mother Nature. The chances of UST making it past the elimination round was as likely as Cuan making his next two free throws (side note: Cuan was the DeAndre Jordan of point guards).

The rematch against National U was deemed as a do-or-die affair. That did not seem to be the case during the first half, as the Bulldogs took an eight-point lead heading into the dugout. Whatever Jarencio said during the dugout seemed to work, as UST held the Bulldogs to only 27 points in the second half in this critical feline-canine tiff. Cruz and Evangelista combined for 30 points to finally end UST’s four-game slide. UST 75, National U 67.

There was no time for UST to breathe a sigh of relief as FEU, who were looking to right their ship after having their four-game winning streak snapped at the hands of UE, awaited five days later. In an unlikely turn of events, Espiritu had a breakout game, scoring 31 points as UST barely escaped despite the absence of Duncil and Cortez, who were both stymied with typhoid fever. UST needed to heat up, although not in this manner. UST 77, FEU 75.

Less than a month after the massive shellacking, UST faced Ateneo anew. Already facing the absence of Vizcarra for the remainder of the season, Espiritu, who just played the game of his life, was sidelined with an injury of his own.

To complicate matters, despite the advances of modern medicine, Duncil and Cortez were still not cleared to play. And it was much better that way. Typhoid fever, if not immediately and properly treated during its stages of early onset, can rapidly deteriorate the human body’s condition to life-threatening levels. Undisputedly, basketball must take a backseat, no questions asked.

Four players were declared inactive for the Growling Tigers before tipoff. Expecting another 36-point drubbing at the hands of the Blue Eagles, undefeated at 8-0, was in the realm of possibility.

Perhaps the Thomasian community would be satisfied with whatever result comes out, knowing how handicapped the team is. A loss under these extenuating circumstances would still be painful but could be rationalized to a certain degree.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The Growling Tigers not only managed to stay within the game, but also put themselves in a position to dent Ateneo’s immaculate record. Momentum swung when Evangelista buried two critical free throws in regulation that sent the game into overtime. A shell-shocked Blue Eagles squad saw the Growling Tigers pull away during the extra session, wondering how an undermanned squad summoned the skill and willpower to notch their fifth victory of the season. Evangelista channeled the aura of a leader that mattered just as much as each of his 30 points. More importantly, a Final Four berth was no longer a pipe dream. UST 88, ADMU 80 (OT).

UST played better in recent games not because they had more talent, but because they played with enough poise to get them over the hump. The victory over Ateneo was a confidence booster, but it was not a universal panacea. For the second time this season, the Fighting Maroons shocked the Growling Tigers. Cuan got reckless on back-to-back possessions, turning the ball over twice and squandering UST’s chance to move above .500. UP 90, UST 87.

With one game remaining in the elimination round against Adamson, UST needed to win in order to stay within the Final Four hunt. If that scenario were not motivation enough, then what would have been the 21st birthday of Apil clearly was. Cruz, who was already making headway for a spot in the Mythical Five, was his usual dominant self, tallying another double-double, this time with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

The Growling Tigers have found stability in this first-year player who was unfazed playing against more seasoned opponents. It was a shame that technicalities disqualified Cruz from the Rookie of the Year race. It came down to the final possession, but when the final buzzer sounded, UST had one foot inside the postseason door. UST 77, AdU 74.

Ending the elimination round at 6-6, UST had control of their destiny as they awaited the results of Adamson (5-6), who had to play against National U, and FEU (5-6), who were slated to play against Ateneo. UST was assured of at least a playoff game in the event of a three-way tie.

AdU 93, National U 88.

ADMU 70, FEU 68.

For the first time since the Final Four format was introduced, FEU became the first defending champion to completely miss the Final Four festivities the following year. That meant UST had booked a ticket to the Final Four for the first time since Season 65. But there were formalities that needed to be ironed out.

Playoff Time

Tallying identical 6-6 records, UST and Adamson were required to play a classification game in order to determine their seeding. The winner gets the third seed and plays against UE while the loser falls to the fourth seed and faces Ateneo.

Avoiding the Blue Eagles was clearly the ideal scenario, since defeating them once is already a tall order, much less overcoming a twice-to-beat disadvantage. However, the Red Warriors edged the Blue Eagles in the final game of the elimination round, exposing vulnerabilities and reminding everyone that UE is still in the championship conversation.

Finally, UST got a favorable break. The classification game marked the first that UST fielded a roster that was close to full strength and it showed against the Soaring Falcons. Once again, Cruz and Evangelista displayed their mettle and the returning Espiritu gave Jarencio the mobility needed to flummox Patrick Cabahug and Marc Agustin, forcing Bono to play heroball until the very end. UST 85, AdU 71.

Sporting an 8-4 card after the elimination round, the UE Red Warriors were expected to return to the Finals. Custodio, Borboran, and Arellano were matchup nightmares, and the presence of human pogo stick Elmer Espiritu and the immovable presence of Pari Llagas made UE Head Coach Dindo Pumaren’s squad difficult to assess, as anyone can stuff the stat sheet on any given afternoon.

The Growling Tigers found themselves in a back-and-forth affair with the Red Warriors, and an unlikely hero stepped up. Center Mark Canlas, who was sent in primarily to stay in front of Espiritu and Llagas, got himself involved in UST’s offense, amassing a career-high 16 points to hold UE at bay. Then in the last two minutes, Cortez took over, staggering through the defense and converting a three-point play with 21 seconds left. UST lived to see another day. Ateneo, who had defeated Adamson a few hours earlier to secure a Finals spot, lay in wait. UST 79, UE 75.

Whether it was divine intervention or not, the basketball gods smiled favorably on UST four days later. UE announced that Custodio, their primary option, was suspended due to disciplinary measures as he violated certain team rules. To this day, various allegations have swirled around the suspension, but no closure has been reached. And for UE supporters, so many what-ifs were left on the table. Had Custodio been cleared to play, the narrative may have been completely different.

Despite the absence of Custodio and his 16.5 points per game, the Red Warriors were not fazed. Pumaren turned to enforcer Llagas and the sweet-shooting Arellano, who took the offensive cudgels in their hands, each scoring 14 points. However, the Growling Tigers smelled blood and went for the kill, taking a 14-point lead early in the second half. The Red Warriors, with one final salvo, went on a scoring barrage and found themselves down by one with no timeouts left.

This moment was supposed to be UE’s fairytale scene. Imagine this script: Best player deemed ineligible to play, the Red Warriors pick up the slack, advance to the Finals, where they would go on to miraculously pull off the underdog story to be talked about for generations to come.

Except, it wasn’t meant to be. In the waning seconds, Jorel Canizares got two looks at the basket but couldn’t sink either attempt, and by the time Rob Labagala corralled the offensive rebound, the opportunity for a game-saving putback was waved off as the game clock red zeroes across the board. With 27 points and 18 rebounds, Cruz began to look more and more like an MVP, a harbinger of things to come. UST 82, UE 81.

For the first time since 1999, UST was back in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals.

Finals

No yabang.

This phrase is very much embedded in Ateneo’s lexicon thanks to Blue Eagles Head Coach Norman Black, a playful banter to the stereotypical arrogance Ateneans need to keep in check. But more importantly, it is a reminder for Black’s stalwarts to stay the course, never letting pride and avarice consume the way they approach the game of basketball and the game of life.

2006 marked the two teams’ first time to battle in the UAAP Finals, but that does not mean this rivalry has any shortcomings when it comes to bitterness. During the late 1990s, one of their games was held in a closed-door affair in the Cuneta Astrodome after a melee broke out between players and supporters of both teams. These days, a closed-door match seems unfathomable, given the TV ratings, revenues, and sponsorships that are generated every game.

Nearly everyone predicted Ateneo to romp over UST. Yours truly believed that UST taking a game in this series would already be their version of a championship. But respected luminaries in the industry believed otherwise.

UP Head Coach Joe Lipa, National U Head Coach Manny Dandan, and FEU Head Coach Bert Flores attributed two key traits to that could propel UST to greater heights: Versatility and flexibility. There is no doubt that Ateneo was still the safe pick. But going against the grain to pick UST was not a delusional choice. Unorthodox, yes, but still within the bounds of sanity.

Game 1 was the Doug Kramer game. With one second remaining, Norman Black diagrammed a picture-perfect play that involved Escalona throwing a pinpoint overhead pass from halfcourt to Doug Kramer, who was standing right underneath the basket for the buzzer-beater. The demonstration of Black Magic still generates YouTube clicks to this day whenever a new UAAP season approaches. ADMU 73, UST 72.

One could not blame the Growling Tigers for feeling defanged after another heart-stopping loss. UST had four days to regroup, watch film, and put their frustrations behind them. There was no time to play the blame game or point fingers for the mental lapse.

And then disaster struck. Literally. Again.

Typhoon Milenyo entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility on the eve of Game 2, postponing another UST game yet again. Last-second losses and typhoons were becoming recurring trends this season. The extra two days of rest gave the Growling Tigers more time to not only ensure their safety, but also refocus their energy as Ateneo prepared to deal the final blow.

Facing a 0-1 hole, UST knew they were in dire straits, but it was not an insurmountable task. Nor is it unprecedented. In 1994 and 1995, the España-based squad was also on the brink of elimination after losing both Game 1s to the Green Archers. In both instances, UST turned the tide and won Games 2 and 3 in dramatic fashion. In fact, UST only needed to look at their previous round against the Red Warriors to reassure themselves that anything is possible.

For Jarencio, despite downplaying the expectations surrounding his boys, understood the implications this series meant on his legacy. He was never part of a championship team during his playing days with the Growling Tigers and knew that opportunities are fleeting. UST was two wins away. They may never get this close again.

Prior to Game 2, the annual awards were handed out, and Cruz was recognized as a member of the Mythical Five in front of 18,080 viewers inside Araneta Coliseum and many more around the world. With the floodlights, the cacophony of drums, and staccato heartbeats that could not be silenced, UST pulsated on adrenaline and desperation, as they were buoyed by Ababou and Duncil, who combined for 42 points, forcing a do-or-die showdown. UST 87, ADMU 71.

One Last Time

Thrilla in Manila took place on October 1, 1975. 31 years and a day later, you could argue that Ateneo-UST Game 3 was the closest thing we have ever had to a sequel in the Big Dome. Two heavyweights who were slugging for immortality. More than 20,000 arrived to witness the spectacle and would emerge either in euphoric jubilation or in inconsolable tears.

“Bahala na, basta kami laban,” Jarencio voiced out.

Espiritu was the biggest question mark heading into Game 3. Despite UST holding on to a sizeable lead in the fourth quarter during Game 2, Espiritu let emotions get the best of him, committing two flagrant fouls that led to his ejection. A suspension would be a crippling blow to UST’s title hopes. In addition, Ateneo had yet to lose back-to-back games this season, owing to Black’s elite ability to make the necessary adjustments after every loss.

Thankfully, Espiritu was cleared to play, but UST had more pressing concerns to address. Intal had been a thorn on UST’s side throughout the series, scoring an average of 22 points in Games 1 and 2. With the Eagles commanding additional firepower from Kramer, Escalona, and Chris Tiu, UST needed to dominate the boards and render the King Eagle to an inefficient output as much as possible. Ateneo’s egalitarian offense would make that a daunting task.

The Blue Eagles had the Growling Tigers by the tail during the second quarter as they began to pull away, taking a 27-19 lead with UST entering the penalty situation. Escalona was playing the game of his life, thoroughly outplaying Cuan and Cortez, who looked like deer in headlights. UST was not doing themselves any favors either. Missing eight of their first 16 free throw attempts, there were a lot of audible groans from the Thomasian faithful. How could the team possibly go cold at a time like this?

Perhaps this is as far as Puso can take a team. At some point, talent inevitably wins out, just like it is supposed to.

But there was still so much basketball to be played. Entering the halftime break trailing 37-31, Jarencio rallied his troops and gave them a new lease on life. The Growling Tigers opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run sparked by Ababou and Cruz, energizing the UST crowd to earth-shaking decibels. UST was not yet done, as the scoring avalanche continued, allowing them to take a 48-39 lead with 14 minutes of game clock left.

However, the Blue Eagles did what every Atenean does best: Cramming. Skyward-pointing index fingers were raised at every trip to the charity stripe. Every chant of “Go USTe” was defiantly countered with “One Big Fight!” The Blue Eagles gradually nipped into UST’s precarious lead and by the start of the fourth quarter, UST held on to a 51-50 cushion.

Jarencio was in a similar situation 22 years earlier. In Game 3 of the 1984 Finals, he and UE marksman and future PBA Legend Allan Caidic engaged in a shootout unlike any other. Jarencio’s 49 barely edged out Caidic’s 48, but it was Caidic’s Red Warriors who ultimately prevailed. With 10 minutes remaining, was Jarencio experiencing flashbacks?

Neither team could find the basket for nearly three and a half minutes in the fourth quarter before Ababou ended the drought. Much like Ali and Frazier in the latter rounds of their fight, both teams were trading blows that landed on empty air.

Then, things turned bleak for UST. As UST hung on to a 57-56 lead with three minutes left to play, Evangelista was called for his fifth and final foul, bringing an anticlimactic end to his UAAP playing career. He could only voice his support for his teammates from the bench as the seconds ticked down. Intal, showing why he was the MVP runner-up, took matters into his own hands, knocking down a triple and a few possessions later, finished on a three-point play that gave Ateneo a 64-59 lead. On that same play, Intal drew the fifth foul of Cruz, also sending him to the bench. 1:16 of game clock was left.

Down two players, it looked like the writing was on the wall for the Growling Tigers. But Espiritu buried a triple and Intal missed a runner, giving UST life with 43 seconds to go. In the helter-skelter that resulted from Duncil’s miss, Canlas was at the right place at the right time, scoring on a putback that knotted the game at 64-all.

Ateneo had one last crack to break the tie in regulation with 21 seconds remaining. Escalona dribbled out the clock at the top of the key, fed the ball to Tiu, who zipped the ball towards Intal as he made his initial approach to the basket. A ball fake and a dribble put Intal in position to lob a seven-foot runner that bounced off the back iron. Five… four… three… Cuan snatched the rebound before Kramer could seize it and heaved a prayer from the halfcourt line. It came nowhere near the backboard. Overtime.

The first point in overtime came from the most unlikeliest source: Cuan at the free throw line. Jarencio gave a playful slap at Cuan’s wrist for good measure. It was a momentary comic relief for a game that raised blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Cuan’s first freebie caught the front of the rim and trickled out, bringing him down to an inexplicable 1/8. Mercifully, the second one went in, and UST was in the driver’s seat for the first time since Evangelista’s fifth foul.

Escalona was far from finished. He saw Cuan sagging off several feet from him, prompting him to coolly drill a stop-and-pop pull-up three to gave Ateneo the lead once again at 67-65.

Enter Duncil. He stutter-stepped on the right side of the free throw line, throwing off Escalona’s defense for a split second, enough for him to create space and bury a jumper that would tie the game anew at 67-all right at the three-minute mark. On the next possession, Intal tried to drop off a pass to Kramer but was intercepted by Cuan, and after resetting the play, he drew a foul from Ateneo’s Ford Arao. As Cuan headed back to the stripe, UST fans were doing imaginary free throws in the hopes that Cuan could get even just one to drop. Broken form and all, Cuan managed to split.

At the last two minute mark, Cuan and Duncil lunged towards Tiu, who found a wide-open Escalona, surveying the compromised defense and surged to the basket to give Ateneo a 69-68 lead. Duncil tried to answer with a stepback three. As every rebounder calculated the shot’s trajectory, Duncil knew that it was short from the moment he released it and ran towards the front of the rim, that the ball barely grazed as it landed in his palms. He was clobbered as he made his putback attempt and was sent to the line, converting both.

With a minute and change left, Intal swung the ball to Escalona for an open three that came up short. Fortunately for the Blue Eagles, Kramer was there for the offensive rebound. Unfortunately for the Blue Eagles, he kicked the ball out exactly where Ababou stood waiting. Upon intercepting the ball, Ababou immediately changed course and waited for the rest of his teammates to move towards the frontcourt. Once again, Duncil had the ball, and this time he got Ken Barracoso to bite off a shot fake. With no one within his zip code, Duncil took one dribble and two steps as he launched a jumper from the left side of the free throw line.

Some side-to-side ball action between Intal and Tiu allowed Tiu enough room to launch a three, and with 55 seconds left, the game was once again equalized at 72-all. It looked like a second overtime was inevitable.

But Duncil had other plans. Already with six points off an assortment of plays, he found the ball in his hands once again with Escalona looking to put the clamps on him. Duncil moved towards the baseline and Escalona followed in pursuit. But Escalona got overeager, and just like Barracoso, bit too hard on a pump fake that allowed Duncil to drop another jumper from the right baseline with 43 seconds left. 10 seconds later, Intal would break down the UST frontline for a layup, 74-all.

Then, the Blue Eagles were caught ball-watching. After Cortez missed a three, nobody boxed out, allowing Ababou to snare the rebound and drew a foul as Ateneo prevented him from converting on a putback. After back-rimming the first free throw, he rattled the second one in to put the Growling Tigers ahead 75-74 with 12.5 seconds remaining and Ateneo in possession.

Winning time. Barracoso inbounded the ball to Intal, who saw a crease, an opening, if he could maneuver his way through. As he did in regulation, he made his patented drive to the basket. It was a similar attempt to the daggers he drove into the hearts of FEU and Adamson during the earlier rounds. But lady luck was on UST’s side, as Intal’s bank shot did not have enough English to bounce in.

Cuan anticipated the ball’s path and immediately secured the rebound. But over Cuan’s head, Intal had swiftly recovered and had a significant grip on the ball as well. Jumpball! With Intal’s towering height advantage, Ateneo would surely control possession. And if Black was able to create something with one second of game clock in Game 1, then 4.3 seconds was an eternity.

Except…

The rules were different. In 2018, a similar scenario taking place with less than two minutes in regulation or overtime resulted in a jumpball situation. But in 2006, the possession arrow rule applied throughout the whole game. Since overtime began with Ateneo on the offensive (instead of the traditional jumpball), that meant the possession arrow pointed in UST’s favor.

What a drastic turn of events. Ateneo fouled Cortez as quickly as possible, leaving 3.7 seconds on the clock. Cortez sank his first free throw, but just as the trend had been in this game, he missed the second free throw, leaving the door ajar ever so open for one last Hail Mary from the Blue Eagles.

Ababou batted the ball and wasted precious seconds, before Ateneo’s Jai Reyes launched a halfcourt prayer that slammed against the left side of the backboard as time expired. The carnage was over. UST survived Intal’s repeated stabs and Escalona’s career-best 28 markers. Somehow, someway, the Growling Tigers emerged on top of the Blue Eagles.

“And UST has won the 69th Season of the UAAP!” Sev Sarmenta bellowed.

UST 76, ADMU 74 (OT).

Duncil was awarded as the Finals MVP. His season, decimated with suspensions and illnesses, was a microcosm of UST’s struggles. But in the end, the 23-year-old pride of Apalit, Pampanga came through when it mattered most and added another glorious chapter in UST’s winning tradition.

This title is for the diehards.

The fair-weathered fans.

The skeptics.

Jemal Vizcarra.

John Lee Apil.

UST Growling Tigers.

The UAAP Season 69 Men’s Basketball Champions.

Champions

Twelve years have passed since UST bucked the odds and delivered a title to the Thomasian faithful.

Jervy Cruz would go on to win the UAAP MVP in Season 70.

In Season 72, Dylan Ababou would win the UAAP MVP as well.

Pido Jarencio would make two more Finals appearances in 2012 and 2013, finishing as the runner-up in both years.

A new streak of Growling Tigers leads the way for UST. How soon will they recreate the magic that this 2006 squad left behind?

Postscript

This article is dedicated to the memory of Rolly Manlapaz. Sir Rolly, thank you for enriching our viewing experience every time you covered a game. You have no idea, but your presence made my job so much easier. You will truly be missed.