UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas (UST) ended a year-long, 19-game losing dry spell after taming rival Far Eastern University (FEU) with a 68-62 win at the close of the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament first round yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

The Growling Tigers last won on Oct. 1, 2022 for the opener of Season 85 before succumbing to 13 straight losses to end their campaign plus a 0-6 start in the return of coach Pido Jarencio this season.

Well, not anymore as Nic Cabañero came to the rescue when the Growling Tigers needed him the most by cashing in 23 points on nine-of-16 clip spiced by six rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes of play.

He wasn’t alone in the battle as the undersized slotman Christian Manaytay stood tall with a 10-11 double-double to repel the Tamaraws’ frontline with Migs Pangilinan (9), Angelo Crisostomo (8), Kenji Duremdes (7) and Ivanne Calum (7) throwing in vital support.

Mr. Duremdes, son of basketball legend Kenneth, added 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal in an all-around play.

Hopes were high for Santo Tomas, upon the appointment of Mr. Jarencio in the offseason to replace Bal David, entering the season after a free-falling campaign in the entire Season 85.

But to no avail, it still took long for the young Growling Tigers to find their niche in the UAAP jungle dominated by battle-tested powers before catching the Tamaraws — who were on a two-game streak — napping in time for the second round.

Santo Tomas slightly seized control in the first half off Mr. Cabañero’s and-one at the buzzer, 55-50, before slowly but surely breaking away in the second half behind a 10-4 rally to post the biggest lead at 65-54.

The Growling Tigers were never threatened from there on for a morale-boosting win to stay in Final Four contention entering the second phase.

“This will give us confidence going into the next round. We’re going to be happy today and we’re going to work again,” said Mr. Cabañero.

Ljay Gonzales (11), Xyrus Torres (11) and Jorick Bautista (11) paced FEU, which slid to 2-5 for a tie with University of the East at sixth to seventh spot — with UST lurking just behind. — John Bryan Ulanday

The Scores:

UST 68 – Cabañero 23, Manaytay 10, Pangilinan 9, Crisostomo 8, Duremdes 7, Calum 7, Manalang 4, Llemit 0, Laure 0, Gesalem 0, Lazarte 0, Esmena 0.    

FEU 62 – Gonzales 11, Torres 11, Bautista 11, Sleat 8, Tempra 7, Faty 7, Ona 5, Competente 2, Alforque 0, Bagunu 0, Montemayor 0, Buenaventura 0, Felipe 0.

Quarterscores: 22-17, 38-34, 55-50, 68-62.