AND they meet again.
De La Salle University (DLSU) set a much-awaited finals date with familiar foe National University (NU), earning a 74-69 decision over a pesky University of Santo Tomas (UST) side in the do-or-die Final Four of the UAAP Season 85 women’s basketball tournament yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Armed with a twice-to-beat bonus as the No. 2 seed, the Lady Archers held fort and atoned for a 68-57 defeat in Game 1 to earn a shot at unseating the six-time reigning champion Lady Bulldogs in the best-of-three titular showdown next week.
Four players scattered twin digits led by Fina Niantcho Tchuido with 18 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and two blocks as La Salle barged back to the finals for the first time in six years.
De La Salle bowed to NU in Season 79, 0-2, but it was also the last team to beat the latter in the finals by virtue of a 2-1 victory in 2013 — making it a perfect rematch made in heaven for either a continuation of NU dynasty or a De La Salle destiny this time around.
The Lady Archers were also the only team to beat NU this season, eking out a 61-57 overtime win in the elimination round to snap the latter’s 108-game, nine-year winning streak and turn a supposedly steep stepladder playoffs to a traditional Final Four format.
But it wasn’t handed on a silver platter for De La Salle with Santo Tomas’ heavy resistance all series long, especially after a stunning loss in Game 1.
“The girls just wanted it more this time around. They knew we needed to be aggressive to beat a very good UST team,” said coach Cholo Villanueva after nearly losing a comfortable nine-point lead in crunch time.
“UST played one heck of a series against us but we’re the better team this time around. We made proper adjustments for that last finals spot against NU,” he added.
Bettina Binaohan (17), Charmine Torres (16) and Lee Sario (12) backstopped Tchuido for the Lady Archers, who gained a separation at 61-52 midway through the fourth after a toe-to-toe duel in the first three quarters.
De La Salle, however, needed one last stand as Santo Tomas rallied with a 17-8 spree to tie the match at 69-all before Ms. Binaohan and Ms. Torres iced the deal with clutch freethrows in the last 30 seconds.
Agatha Bron had 13 points while presumptive MVP Eka Soriano put up 10 markers, nine boards, six assists and three steals in the gallant exit of the third-seeded Growling Tigresses. — John Bryan Ulanday
DLSU 74 — Niantcho 18, Binaohan 17, Torres 16, Sario 12, Jimenez 5, Dalisay 3, Arciga 2, De La Paz 1, Camba 0, Ahmed 0, Espinas 0.
UST 69 — Bron 13, Soriano 10, Dionisio 9, Villasin 8, Tacatac 8, Pangilinan 8, Ambos 8, Serrano 3, Santos 2.
Quarterscores: 21-18, 38-34, 57-50, 74-69