The UST Growling Tigers are simply put, a proud institution.
As the school with the most UAAP general championships (46) and the second-most UAAP Men’s Basketball titles (18), winning has generally been commonplace. But as of late, the basketball victories have been elusive for the Growling Tigers.
Since winning the UAAP Season 69 Men’s Basketball Championship over the ADMU Blue Eagles, UST made four UAAP Finals appearances, all of which were empty trips. Since making the UAAP Finals in Season 82, they’ve won a total of four games and have cycled through a number of head coaches, the most recent of which was Pido Jarencio.
Jarencio was the last head coach to lead the Growling Tigers to a UAAP Men’s Basketball title and while he is a reminder of UST’s former glory, it has been anything but that for the Growling Tigers in Season 86.
The losses piled on for UST as the season went on, until the Growling Tigers got a breakthrough 68-62 victory over the FEU Tamaraws to wrap up the first round of eliminations.
Nic Cabañero’s strong performance (game-high 23 points) finally came with a win and even with an All-Filipino lineup, UST controlled the boards and defended the paint. The Growling Tigers’ victory also snapped a 19-game losing streak for UST, which must’ve created some pent-up energy that the Tamaraws were on the receiving end of.
One could sense the collective sigh of relief from the Thomasian side of the Mall of Asia Arena, more so for Jarencio and his coaching staff. Each passing defeat came with more questions and calls for patience.
But will this win quell the Growling Tigers’ worries?
UST remains at the bottom of the standings halfway through Season 86 and while it remains mathematically possible for them to make the Final Four, it’s more likely than not that the Growling Tigers will miss it once again.
The absence of Adama Faye may have not been a concern against FEU, but it will be an issue when UST faces the rest of the league, especially on defense. As that will be a hurdle tough to overcome, the Growling Tigers have to hope for great offensive games from pretty much everyone.
Cabañero currently leads the league in scoring at 20.6 points per game, while Christian Manaytay (13.9 points per game) and Migs Pangilinan (9.6 points per game) have provided support on offense through trips to the free throw line and 3-point shooting, respectively.
The rest of the team? Well none average more than 6.9 points per game, and much of this has come in some and not all games. Consistency from them will be crucial, considering that the rest of the UAAP won’t be complacent with just defending the usual suspects.
The UST Growling Tigers’ much-awaited first victory in UAAP Season 86 has given joy to Thomasians. Christmas could come early for them if the Growling Tigers can turn their season around, but a realistic mindset would be to play the long game. After all, good things come to those who wait.