By Kristel Satumbaga
(Mall of Asia Arena)
12 noon – UST vs NU (women’s)
National University escaped the claws of University of Santo Tomas 70-65 on Wednesday to take Game 1 of the UAAP season 82 women’s basketball finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Rhena Itesi and Kelli Hayes anchored the Lady Bulldogs in the absence of top gun Jack Animam to extend their winning streak to 95 games and move a victory away from clinching their sixth straight title.
Itesi drained 17 points and collared 13 rebounds while Hayes added 16 points for NU, which pulled away from a 41-38 halftime lead en route to the triumph.
“This game is bigger than us,” said Hayes, a member of the national team that competed in the 2019 FIBA Asia Women’s Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in New Zealand last week.
“We played for her (Animam), we played for the NU community. I’m just happy that everyone stepped up.”
Animam missed the game after sustaining an orbital fracture on her right eye during the said FIBA tournament. She was not allowed to fly from New Zealand upon the advice of the doctors, but NU coach Pat Aquino hopes she will be available by Game 2 on Saturday as they shoot for the crown.
UST threatened in the last 1:40 of the game after firing six straight points to trim the gap at 67-65, but Kaye Pingol answered a triple to restart NU’s drive.
The Tigresses failed to capitalize on their possessions with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Jeorge Panti bouncing off the rim.
“I didn’t mind the score (when UST came close),” said NU coach Pat Aquino. “I just told them that we have to play NU basketball for 40 minutes no matter the score is.”
Pingol contributed 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals for the Lady Bulldogs, while Mikka Cacho chipped in 11 points and six boards.
Back-to-back Most Valuable Player awardee Grace Irebu finished with 17 points, 18 boards and five blocks for UST to no avail.
Game 2 will be on Saturday at the same venue.
NU 70 — Itesi 17, Hayes 16, Pingol 12, Cacho 11, Canuto 4, Del Carmen 4, Surada 4, Clarin 2, Bartolo 0, Cac 0, Fabruada 0, Harada 0.
UST 65 — Irebu 17, Tacatac 10, Ferrer 9, Soriano 8, Callangan 7, Gandalla 5, Portillo 4, Rivera 4, Panti 1, Gonzales 0, Javier 0.
Quarters: 21-22, 41-38, 57-53, 70-65.