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Karim Abdul keeps his promise to bounce back after dismal game

By Paolo Mariano Posted Oct 4th 2013

UST's Karim Abdul walked the talk as he redeemed himself against La Salle after his dismal game versus NU.

After the University of Santo Tomas (UST) shocked National University in the Final Four, the Smart-Araneta Coliseum was filled with joy and cheers from the Growling Tigers and their supporters.

There were plenty of hugs and high-fives to go around. Jeric Teng and Clark Bautista shared a tight embrace, thankful that their senior year has been extended. Ed Daquioag and the other bench guys fooled around and playfully slapped each other. The assistant coaches jumped around the court like giddy grade-schoolers.

In the middle of the ebullient celebration was Karim Abdul. He was easily noticeable. Not because he was tall or because his features are overtly different from his teammates. It’s because he didn’t look happy at all. It was odd because he likes to celebrate after a big win, willingly smiling for the camera and making his cheeky peace sign. Besides, they just entered the finals and made history! How could he not be as jovial as the others? He just stood there with a towel draped over his broad shoulders. Not a smile on his face.

“I didn’t have a good game. Of course I’m glad that we won but it feels like I didn’t contribute. That’s why I give lots of credit to the other guys, they really saved my ass,” said a visibly dejected Abdul after the game.

The 6-foot-6 import only played 19 minutes due to foul trouble. He scored six points on six attempts. For the first time in a very long while, he wasn’t on the court to finish the game. It struck hard on the highly competitive Cameroonian.

But in his retrospection, Abdul didn’t any blame anyone but himself. He didn’t even mention the referees, who threw him off his game by calling those early fouls.

“I just really had a bad feeling about that game versus NU. Being the main player, people were talking to me all the time, telling me a lot of things. I felt a bit pressured,” said Abdul, who was averaging team-highs of 15.7 PPG and 11.8 RPG in 32.6 minutes before the do-or-die against NU.

That’s why prior to their best-of-three title showdown against De La Salle University, he promised his teammates that he’ll bounce back.

So, that’s exactly what he did.

He finished with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds to help lead the Growling Tigers to the nail-biting 73-72 Game 1 victory. More importantly, he made the game-saving block on L.A. Revilla in the waning seconds to preserve the win.

Ganyan naman talaga ‘yan, bumabawi. Kahit hindi ko na sabihin sa kanya ‘yun, alam na niya (That’s just the kind of player he is. Even if I don’t tell him, he knows if he needs to bounce back),” said UST head coach Pido Jarencio.

”We already know how good he is. We just continued to motivate him,” said assistant coach Estong Ballesteros, who works with the UST big men. “Nagbitaw din naman siya ng salita na babawi siya. Ang maganda sa kanya, kapag sinabi niya, ginagawa niya (Besides, he said he’ll bounce back. The good thing about him is when he says something, he acts on it).”

Also, apparently, when Abdul learns a lesson, he never forgets it. That’s why the crucial block on Revilla wasn’t just a lucky one like most people are saying. Well, at least for him.

“I keep going back to that Roi Sumang drive, which I failed to block,” said Abdul, pertaining to the University of the East spitfire’s game-winning layup versus UST in the second round. “Because of that (loss), I always go for the block now, I don’t hesitate. I don’t want that to happen again.”

Sorry, Revilla, you have Sumang to blame.

Inside their locker room after the win over La Salle, Abdul was evidently happy. Why not? They’re now only one win away from capturing the elusive crown and being the lowest seed to ever win the title.

“I’m inspired. I believe in God. I believe that everything happens for a reason. We can’t play two straight finals and lose both. It’s Jeric’s (Teng) last year, I want to win it for him. Besides, I already promised his mom,” said Abdul with a laugh.

But even though he had huge numbers, it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. He immediately had his back and right knee iced after the game. He went to war with the La Salle frontline, even having trouble defending Arnold Van Opstal, who finished with 13 points.

“AVO (Van Opstal) was really aggressive in this game. He isn’t usually like that. He’s really improved, he’s physically conditioned. It wasn’t easy,” said Abdul.

Aside from the 6-foot-7 Van Opstal, he also had to contend with Norbert Torres and Jason Perkins, a pair of hefty big men, who can operate well in the paint. That’s why most observers believe that La Salle has an advantage over UST because of its height.

The 21-year-old Abdul, however, doesn’t buy it at all.

“Logically, height is an advantage, but it’s not. It’s about what you produce on the court. Look, me and Aljon (Mariano) are smaller than them, but we’re ahead of them in terms of statistical points,” proudly said Abdul. “The tallest players aren’t necessarily the best players.”

When the final buzzer sounded and the Growling Tigers escaped the Green Archers by the skin of their teeth, the Big Dome was once again cloaked with celebration from the yellow side. This time around, Abdul was part of it—leading it, actually. He stood on the official’s table and raised both his arms to the UST gallery.

Little did he know, Teng and Jarencio were enjoyably watching him on the TV inside the press room.

Yabang no? (Such arrogance?)” joked Teng.

Sarap batukan (I’d love to whack him),” added Jarencio in jest.

But Abdul had every right to celebrate, even if it was just Game 1. He deserved it. He redeemed himself from his worst game of the season and kept his vow to his teammates. Also, it was simply his way of appreciating the school that has helped him become what he is today.

“I just love UST, man. It’s for UST,” said Abdul.