Forgotten Growling Tigers look to get back on track
Paul Lintag on Sep 01, 2015 08:34 PM
"In the end for sure, we’ll find a way.” - Karim Abdul. After a disastrous Season 77, it looks like the UST Growling Tigers will use Season 78 to remind everybody that they are still one of the league's top teams.
Fact: the UST Growling Tigers had a horrible UAAP Season 77.
However, if you really dissect what they went through, it can be argued that the Tigers were merely victims of ridiculously high expectations from the media, the fans and even themselves.
Granted, they were coming off back-to-back finals appearances and they were one basket away from winning it all in Season 76.
Season 77 meant like a new start and a new chance to win, maybe third time is the charm.
It was not.
The loss of Jeric Teng was too much to handle on a leadership and offensive standpoint, Kevin Ferrer played through various nagging injuries and Aljon Mariano looked like he never really got through the ghosts that haunted him from the past season.
Finally, newly-installed head coach Bong dela Cruz, appointed with little to no time of preparation, struggled to continue the whole “Puso. Pride. Palaban.” persona the Tigers have embraced.
In short, it was horrible.
The good news is Season 78 looks like the real new start UST will have. The Tigers are back to being underdogs again. Nobody expects them to win it all, nobody expects them to even make the Final Four.
But nobody will be surprised if they come out and make a run for the championship that has eluded them since their Cinderella run in 2006 that now seems like from a distant memory.
For one, they have had a full year under the tutelage of dela Cruz and the many struggles the Tigers went through in Season 77 are a thing of the past.
“We’re ready this year, excited na sa UAAP,” dela Cruz told ABS-CBN Sports. “Wala kaming performance last year so siyempre yung mga fans galit, natural lang ‘yun. But this year we’re on the right track, ‘yung mistakes namin last year nai-ayos na namin.”
Also, the team’s last remaining veterans have chips on their shoulders to prove that they can win before making their UAAP exits.
Kevin Ferrer, the undisputed leader of this team now, believes that his Growling Tigers can make a run for the school’s 19th championship.
“Ayaw na naming maulit ‘yung last year so [mas] focused na kaming lahat,” the Sinag Pilipinas forward said.
His long-time running mate, Karim Abdul, shares the same sentiment, although he remains cautious not to fuel unnecessary hype surrounding the team which he says is a closer group now compared to the one last year.
“I like the way things are going this year,” Abdul told ABS-CBN Sports. “I don’t know if its safe to say, but this group, we have a lot to prove. We can fight this year.”
Aside from better preparation and team chemistry, the arrival of four-time PBA MVP Alvin Patrimonio has UST thinking better days, especially since the Tigers are absorbing every little bit of knowledge they can get from “The Captain.”
Ferrer and Abdul are improving their post-game thanks to the former Purefoods star and the rest of the team is more energetic and inspired being in his presence alone.
“Syempre iba ‘yung Alvin Patrimonio. Pagdating pa lang sa practice ‘yung mga bata biglang tumaas ang confidence and morale because of coach Alvin,” dela Cruz said. “Magandang factor ‘yun para sa mga bata syempre para sa mga coaches din.”
The second-year coach also hopes that injuries will not be a problem for the team for Season 78. He assessed that the Tigers are at 100% health-wise and he hopes it stays that way for the rest of the year.
Ferrer has dialed back on his extra commitments, only playing for Sinag Pilipinas in the offseason while Abdul and other players have used the extra time to recuperate from various nagging injuries.
And the one player who has remained relatively healthy, Ed Daquioag, used the opportunity to insert himself as one of the new go-to scorers and the Tigers could not be happier.
After a horrible season last year, the Tigers are lurking in the shadows again. There are more teams that far bigger and stronger than them but they don’t mind. In fact, they don’t care and that is dangerous for the opposition.
“The UST Growling Tigers will always be Growling Tigers,” Abdul said. “[We won’t turn into] a cat, still a tiger so just be careful. In the end for sure, we’ll find a way.”
The Tigers open Season 78 on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum against Adamson University. The game will be broadcast LIVE on ABS-CBN Sports+Action Channel 23 at 4:00 PM and will also be streamed LIVE on sports.abs-cbn.com.
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