Tigers keep breathing

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Bright Akhuetie of the University of the Philippines fishes a foul from University of Santo Tomas defender Caunan Enrique Jr. during their UAAP men’s basketball game yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.                                                          ROMAN PROSPERO

Games Saturday
(at the MoA Arena)

2 p.m. NU vs. UE
4 p.m. La Salle vs. Adamson

Don’t count University of Santo Tomas out just yet in the Final Four race of Season 81 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.

After starting the season with a 1-4 slate and big man Steve Akomo’s status uncertain due to a head trauma, the Growling Tigers shot down another Final Four contender in University of the Philippines with a wire-to-wire 86-72 victory on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

It was UST’s first back-to-back triumphs of the season to end the first round with a 3-4 win-loss mark and more importantly put them in a good position of vying for a slot in the Final Four stage.

Rookie CJ Cansino unleashed an all-around performance with 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Growling Tigers, who led by as many as 30 points in the game.

Renz Subido added 13 points while John Zamora and Marvin Lee contributed 12 and 11 markers, respectively, for UST which also beat FEU in the first round, 76-74.

“Everybody came out to play today. They played well, executed the game plan. They were more relaxed, had fun and we played as a team. That was the difference compared with our previous games,” said Growling Tigers head coach Aldin Ayo.

“Of course, this game is for Steve. He’s fine, nothing serious. UST will release an official statement on that,” Ayo added.

For the third straight game, UST played minus Akomo as he’s still in the hospital recovering from a head trauma he suffered against Adamson last 22 September.

But his absence was hardly felt by the Espana-based team as Garmy Mahinay and Ira Bataller took turns in slowing down Fighting Maroons center Bright Akhuetie.

The Nigerian failed to impose his presence early in the game as the Growling Tigers erected a 31-16 lead after the first period and carried a 53-29 halftime lead.

UST was relentless after the break and even stretched its lead to as high as 30 points, 71-41, on Cansino’s triple with 3:05 left in the third period.

After Zamora’s own three-pointer early in the fourth, 79-50, Diego Dario and Juan Gomez de Liano sparked the Fighting Maroons’ uprising and led a 19-4 assault to trim the lead to 69-83, 1:58 left in the game.

But Lee’s triple proved to be the dagger and snapped UP’s two-game losing streak to slide to 3-4 in the standings.

The Fighting Maroons’ erratic performance was a continuation of their near meltdown against National University before pulling off an 89-88 squeaker.

Against UST, UP failed to capitalize the absence of Akomo as the Fighting Maroons were outrebounded (38-51) by the smaller Growling Tigers.

Akhuetie had his usual double-double game of 18 points and 11 rebounds while Javi Gomez de Liano and Dario chipped in 12 and 10 markers, respectively.

Paul Desiderio and Juan Gomez de Liano, who combined for 34 points against NU, were limited to just 15 in total.

Meanwhile, De La Salle University dominated fierce rival Ateneo, 82-56, while Adamson University overwhelmed winless University of the Philippines, 68-51, to remain in the top four range in the women’s division.

Khate Castillo went 8-of-13 from the field to finish with 19 points as the Lady Archers led by as many as 45 points to end their first round stint with three consecutive victories and 5-2 overall in third spot.

The Lady Falcons posted their fourth win in seven contests in fourth place.

The Lady Eagles stumbled to a fifth straight defeat after a 2-0 start, while the Lady Maroons fell at 0-7.

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