The Games That Play Us: Two Cinderella Stories

In one tale, we have a Cinderella team finding its bearings at the right time and winning the elusive UAAP title. On the other, we have a Cinderella team that squandered its chances and, consequently, was left with a slew of could-have-beens for the second year in a row. 

In the middle of it all stood two brothers in each other's arms, one in tears while another beaming with pride. 


The Teng brothers embrace after Game 3. It is a moment
that might never be duplicated again.
(image by KC Cruz)

Down 15 with 6:40 to go in the third period, the De La Salle Green Archers looked all but quashed. UST had started that period on an 8-1 tear, powered by the sublime shooting of Jeric Teng, who had, by then, already amassed 17 points. Coach Juno Sauler was using another tight rotation in this, Game 3 of the UAAP Season 76 Finals. It sure seemed like the strategy was backfiring, as UST was running and gunning. 

One had to remember, though, that the Tigers themselves were using an even smaller rotation -- regulars like Kim Lo and Ed Daquioag didn't even see a lick of action. Still, armed with a fifteen-point bulge with about 16 minutes left? Coach Pido Jarencio was looking like a genius.


Little did anybody in the Mall of Asia Arena know, however, that, just as a storm was stewing outside the stadium, an even stronger one was brewing on the hardwood.

Ignited by a triple from Almond Vosotros, the Archers battled back and outscored the Tigers, 22-8, the rest of the quarter. Together with Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Arnold Van Opstal, and Thomas Torres, Vosotros piloted the Green & White back into the thick of things, effectively frustrating the UST five and silencing the sizable España fanbase.

Vosotros would go on to score 16 points in the match, including the biggest pair in the endgame. In a postgame interview, the former San Sebastian Staglet credited the DLSU brain-trust for instilling boundless confidence in him.

“Sobra yung confidence na binibigay sa ‘kin nung mga coaches,” Vosotros said.

That confidence, that belief in being able to win no matter the odds, was palpable, and it spread like wildfire throughout the Green team the rest of the way. 

The stage was set for a see-saw battle, and it went that way in the fourth period, which saw seven ties and four lead changes. Perkins tied the game at 50-all before Karim Abdul hit two straight buckets to put UST ahead anew. A Jeron Teng basket drew both teams level again, before UST eventually erected a 61-56 lead with under five minutes remaining. 

At this point, Kevin Ferrer was fouled by Jason Perkins. Ferrer trooped to the stripe for two shots that could potentially give the Tigers a three-possession edge, and, more importantly,  deflate the DLSU spirits. Instead, the former UAAP Juniors MVP missed both charities. The lead stood at five for coach Pido's boys, and La Salle was still within striking distance. 

That was an opportunity coach Juno's wards would not waste. With 3:39 left, Jeron drove against his brother and hit a tough running jumper off the glass -- and one. 

The younger Teng would cramp up then and there, and Thomas Torres had to take the bonus free throw. The sophomore out of La Salle Green Hills would sink it, cutting the Tigers' precarious 5-point edge to a solitary basket, 61-59. It would stay that way for more than a minute before Jeron once again drove strong and tied the game, 61-all, entering the last two minutes of regulation.

Before that sequence, Kent Lao missed three shots (two from point blank), Tata Bautista muffed an open three and also botched a potential fastbreak play. In short, UST had a ton of chances to put more pressure on La Salle, but, and this would pretty much be the story for the rest of the game, the Tigers just couldn't close.

Ferrer and Perkins exchanged buckets for a 63-all count before Jeron Teng once again gave the Archers a last grasp of the lead in regulation, 65-63. Aljon Mariano would get fouled 9 ticks later and make two pressure-packed free throws for a 65-all count before Jeron turned the ball over with an erroneous pass to AVO. 

Coach Pido mapped out a play that was seemingly for Jeric Teng to take the last shot, but in the ensuing inbound play, Mariano waved off the graduating former Xavier Stallion and took the shot himself. Up till that point, Mariano had not made a field goal. Give him credit for having the balls to take the potential title-clincher.

"Hero time," he probably thought. "Tabla-panalo naman e."

As things turned out, he missed badly from beyond the arc.

OT.

Only ten points would be scored by both teams in the extra inning, with four of those coming from one man -- Vosotros. Vosotros broke the ice by putting DLSU ahead, 67-65, after 2 minutes of bricks by both squads. Inexplicably, UST attempted four straight jumpers in their next few possessions (perhaps because Karim Abdul turned the ball over twice in the opening minutes of overtime), and they managed to tie the game only when they went inside to Ferrer, who posted up an overmatched Vosotros.

67-all. Barely a minute till the season's end.

And then with only about 40 seconds to go, it looked like UST would have the last laugh after Jeric Teng, again posting up the smaller Vosotros, hit a twisting turnaround jumper from a ridiculously difficult angle that gave coach Pido's boys a 69-67 advantage.

Perhaps not a few Thomasians thought that was it. 

Only it wasn't.

A few seconds later, Jeron was fouled on his way to the hole. This time it was little brother's chance to be the hero. He split his charities, 69-68.

A gasp from the crowd. Mariano tracked the rebound. With half a minute left, that should have been it, right?

Again, it wasn't.

Mariano found himself trapped between his tenacious defender, the sideline, and the baseline. Most of his teammates were covered, and his view was obscured. Thirty seconds away from what might have been his first UAAP crown, Mariano, once again, was faced with a "Hero time" moment. This time he didn't shoot. This time he passed the ball crosscourt, hoping Ferrer would be able to get a handle on it and kill the clock.

Disaster.

Mariano's pass was off, missing Ferrer's outstretched right hand, and sailing out of bounds.

"Ginto na, naging bato pa," as the Filipino saying goes.

Jeron Teng would, once again, get the ball and, again, he would be the decoy. This time around, however, he didn't botch the pass. This time, he found his man -- Vosotros -- for the go-ahead (and eventual championship-clinching) basket, 70-69, with under 20 seconds left. 

LA Revilla would then be fouled after getting a rebound on the other end. He would split his free throws, 71-69, in favor of La Salle.

With one final chance at extending the game or winning it all, coach Pido mapped out a play that (at least to my understanding) was supposed to go to Jeric Teng. Strangely enough, however, Teng was the designated inbounder from his team's baseline. 

Oh, so Jeric would get the ball off a screen from Karim Abdul and pop a desperation trey, right?

Wrong.

Abdul got the ball way out of his range. Jeric, seemingly confused, ran to the opposite side of the court. Abdul launched the ball from deep.

Clang.

Buzzer.

End.

Confetti and jubilation for one Cinderella team.

Tears and undoing for the other. 

In an interview a couple of days prior to Game 3, coach Pido was quoted as saying, ""Hindi naman nag-disappear si Aljon. Andyan lang yan, hintayin lang natin. Malay mo baka pumutok na sa Sabado."

Mariano shot 0/8 from the field, though he did haul down 10 rebounds, and he made 3/4 FTs, including the two that forced overtime.

The San Beda high school alum has been on the receiving end of a lot of nasty comments after the game, and though he did commit some critical miscues, I feel he has gotten a really bad deal. Without Mariano, UST wouldn't even make the Final Four, let alone the Finals. He deserves better than this.

But people have a tendency to react in strange ways when overcome with disappointment. To Aljon, be patient and remember -- this, too, shall pass. (It might take a little longer than usual, though, since tweets and memes tend to last, you know, forever.) Someday, you shall complete your own Cinderella story, and when that happens, you will be the one looking down on your haters.

Of course, the ones currently under the bright lights of triumph are the Green Archers, who last won the UAAP crown in 2007 with the likes of JV Casio and Rico Maierhofer leading the way.  By all indications, this was an awesome ride for DLSU and its fans. They lost Gee Abanilla to the PBA before the season and had rookie coach Juno Sauler at the helm. They lost four first round games and nearly lost their second round opener to Adamson. They lost Game 1 of the Finals and were down 15 in the second half in this one.

But they battened down the hatches, pissed at the wind, took the bull by the horns, flashed the finger at all the doubters, and what have you. They got the job done. 

Not surprisingly, true to his stoic-as-a-stone form, coach Juno remained devoid of emotion even as the cheers rained from on high.

"Like what I’ve been saying, it’s not about winning the ballgame, it’s about improving day-by-day,” said the first-time UAAP Men's champion coach. "I told them to start the game, (that) it will boil down to every possessions (sic). Knowing there’s still time, we have to slug it out."

Game 3 did boil down to a per-possession slugfest, and, lo and behold, the Archers were the tougher unit when the dust settled.

This early, some observers have already been whispering about a dynasty-in-the-making, and, frankly speaking, with Jeron Teng still in tow, as well as the impending debut of Ben Mbala in the not-so-distant future, those whispers might be bound to turn into reality.

And, amidst it all, somewhere in the middle of the yelling and cheering, stood the two men who've been the faces of these Finals for two weeks now.

We all knew, even before the opening whistle of Game 1 was blown, that one Teng brother would yield as the other rose. We all knew one would end up in tears and one would end up with the title. 

But did we really expect Jeron, the champion, to be the one crying as he embraced his kuya Jeric, who, despite falling short of the championship again, was smiling?

"On one side, I’m happy because we’re champions," opines the younger Teng. "But on the other side, ‘yung brother ko, I feel his loss."

As a sincere reflection of the bond between these brothers, Jeron adds the following touching line, "For me, he (kuya Jeric) is deserving to be the finals MVP."

In reply, Jeric tweeted the following shortly after the game, "Congrats to DLSU. They played really well. And congrats to Jeron for getting the Finals MVP. You deserve it. #proudbrother."

And that really encapsulates everything, doesn't it?

This game, despite being played under blinding lights and in front of loud crowds, is not really about the winners or the losers. It's about the people -- players, coaches, students, fans, brothers -- who wage war and give their all. Like Mariano, sometimes they falter. Like Vosotros, sometimes they are victorious. Some are emotional like coach Pido, or seemingly dispassionate like coach Juno. Sometimes, the Cinderella story goes up in smoke at the stroke of midnight, but sometimes it endures until the happily-ever-after.

As what this game and the Tengs showed, however, in all of these characters and moments there is greatness, and that is why it never ends.

#GreatnessNeverEnds

The Green Archers are champs once again!
(image by Jan Dizon/Inboundpass.com)

Brothers till the end.
(image by Jan Dizon/Inboundpass.com)




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2 Comment
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Jeron Teng proved all his haters wrong. Silenced them all.

Balas
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I agree (and I was one of them to boot!). He really made a big leap this past season. Should be MVP-ish next year!

Balas