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Nikki Villasin nails game-winner as UST ends 17-year UAAP women's basketball title drought, NU's dynasty

After 17 years, the Growling Tigresses are queens of the UAAP women's basketball again. Dennis Acosta
By Dugout Philippines

QUEZON CITY--Golden Growling Tigresses.

For the first time in 17 years, the University of Santo Tomas is on top of the UAAP Women's Basketball world. And for the first time in eight seasons, National University settled for silver.

The Growling Tigresses foiled the Lady Bulldogs' quest for an eight-peat, storming back from 14 down in the fourth to take the all-or-nothing Game 3, 71-69, and clinch the UAAP Season 86 championship on Wednesday at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.

Nikki Villasin, a graduating guard out of Chicago, nailed the biggest basket of her career, a fastbreak layup with 11.8 seconds to go that gave UST the lead for good and the crown.

Tin Cayabyab, last season's Finals MVP who had her best game this series with 18 points, tried to win it for the NU with a three-pointer but was well-guarded as her attempt went way short as time expired.

"Im really lost for words. Im really so happy for the girls, sila may gawa nito," said Growling Tigresses head coach Haydee Ong. "We were down big, 15 points ,sabi ko sa kanila don't give up, stick together, unti-untiin natin until fourth quarter, and NU gave us a lot of chances para makahabol kami.

"We made good stops in the last one minute. I think that spells the difference, yung puso ng mga players ko na hindi bumigay kahit down 15 sila," the former national team head coach continued.

This was UST's 12th championship in the women's division, making them the winningest team in league history, breaking its tie with Far Eastern University at 11.

In control was NU heading into the final 10 minutes of the contest.

The Lady Bulldogs entered the fourth quarter ahead 61-47 but they were limited to eight points the rest of the way.

Ann Pingol's layup with 4:12 remaining gave NU a 67-58 advantage then came the UST storm stirred by graduating forward Tantoy Ferrer, who missed the 5-on-5 tournament last season due to an ACL tear.

Ferrer went on a 9-2 run by her lonesome on the back of two triples and three free throws to pull the Growling Tigresses within two with 2:20 left, 69-67.

After missed chances from both sides multiple times, then emerged Mythical Five member Kent Pastrana's moment. The Season 82 Rookie of the Year attacked Camille Clarin and then made a spin move before shooting a short stab to knot the game at 69 with 26 seconds left, forcing NU to call timeout.

The Lady Bulldogs went to one-and-done Stef Berberabe but her short jumper missed with Pastrana grabbing the rebound and passing it forward to Rocel Dionisio, who then passed it to Villasin for the game-winner.

The series was decided by an average of 2.33 points as UST took Game 1, 76-72, while NU won Game 2, 72-70.

Ferrer, who was part of the 3x3 team that dismantled NU's reign in the three-a-side game last season, emerged as the Finals MVP with averages of 15.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.3 steals.

"Alam kong matagal mo nang inaantay ito coach," said the Finals MVP, who tallied 19 points and 14 points while being a plus-23 in her 26 minutes and 50 seconds on the floor.

"Alam kong 2018 pa lang coach, nung pumasok kami nina Tacky (Tacatac), sabi ko, 'Coach, hindi puwede kaming e-exit kami dito sa UST team na walang championship na ibibigay sa iyo. Sa wakas coach nabalik na natin yung korona sa EspaƱa'," the forward out of Calapandayan, Zambales furthered.

Pastrana backstopped Ferrer with 16 points, while Villasin delivered 12 points, none bigger than her final two points in the country's premier collegiate league.

Aside from Cayabyab, the Lady Bulldogs also received contributions from Pringle Fabruada with 13 points and four rebounds as well as Pingol who had 11 points and six rebounds.

Berberabe's statline in her final collegiate game was nine points and 11 rebounds while Angel Surada got nine points and 12 rebounds.

Clarin, who averaged 18.0 points and 7.0 assists in this series before this game, was held to just two points and two assists on a woeful 0-of-11 shooting from the field.

The Scores:

UST (71) – Ferrer 19, Pastrana 16, Villasin 12, Tacatac 9, Bron 4, Dionisio 4, Santos 4, Ambos 3, Maglupay 0, Soriano 0, Amatong 0, Serrano 0.

NU (69) – Cayabyab 18, Fabruada 13, Pingol 11, Berberabe 9, Surada 9, Canuto 5, Clarin 2, Konateh 2, Bartolo 0, Betanio 0, Solis 0.

Quarterscores: 19-19, 32-44, 47-61, 71-69

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