AFTER an 11-year title-drought, the Tigresses finally got out of the cellar and fiercely clawed back to basketball supremacy by clinching the Season 69 UAAP Women’s Basketball crown in an emphatic fashion.
Like assassins on a mission, head coach Peque Tans wards showed their fierceness, early and often, capping the eliminations with a 62-55 victory over Season 68 finalist Adamson University Lady Falcons. The win earned UST the top spot for a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four with a 10-2 win-loss slate. It was USTs first appearance in the Final Four in four years.
The top-seeded Tigresses, however, needed solid composure to contain the University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons for a finals seat, coming from behind for a 72-68 win to force a rubber match after losing, 64-72, in the first game.
“I made my players believe that they could do great things by working together,” Tan told the Varsitarian.
The Tigresses’ airtight defense in the deciding third game of the Finals against Far Eastern University (FEU) Lady Tamaraws did the trick for UST. The España-based cagebelles’ relentless full-court trap contributed to the team’s 13 steals as UST came out on top, 67-59, to clinch the title.
The Tigresses also crashed the boards, winning the rebound battle, 49-39.
“They worked long and hard to reach this far and they would not just let that go,” Tan said.
Throughout the Tigresses’ UAAP campaign, two rookies rose to the challenge and played like veterans: Season 69 Mythical Five members Marichu Bacaro and Remia Buenacosa.
“From the start, I knew that Bacaro and Buenacosa would be doing wonders for the team,” Tan said. “The team needed a consistent scorer and a strong inside presence, and the two was heaven-sent.”
Tan spotted Buenacosa in the 2004 Adidas Streetball 3 on 3 Challenge in Baguio and offered the Bacolod native to play for UST. Buenacosa immediately accepted and tagged along an equally skilled teammate, Bacaro.
Prior to their UST stint, stalwarts Bacaro and Buenacosa bannered the Negros Occidental team, which won the Regional Meet in 2002.
The duo also used to play against male players back in their hometown.
“Playing against guys gave us an advantage because we got used to physical play,” Bacaro said. “But we still train hard because there is always room for improvement.”
And although the greenhorns have proven their worth in their young UAAP careers, they said their efforts would not have matter if not for their teammates.
“Basketball is a team game and there’s no “I” in team,” the 21-year-old Buenacosa said.
Roar for more
And since it took the Tigresses more than a decade to redeem the crown, they are definitely going for more.
“We still have what it takes to be champions since we have an intact lineup,” Tan said. Seniors Neri Noscal and Kath Buyco will likely hand the leadership cudgels to Joanne Gregorio and Orillano, who both showed promise in UAAP Season 69. Center Gregorio registered an efficiency rating of 10.7 per cent and 7.5 rebounds per game, while Orillano was not far behind with 9.2 per cent and 1.9 steals per game.
The title might have taken 11 long years to realize, but the drought turned out to be not a bad thing after all. Instead of leaving the Tigresses in despair, the dark ages fueled them to a sterling comeback, which is the only thing that matters now.
By Ma. Jesamine D.G. Palarca