The Final Four for the 75th UAAP Men’s Basketball Tournament brings a flavor of rivalry renewed and new hopes for up-and-comers. There are hints of fanbases that hunger for a championship, while one aims to make history and claim a fifth straight title.
In this season marked by a game being replayed from scratch, players spitting at benches, assistant coaches confronting parents and inconsistent referee calls, it all finally comes down to this.
Ateneo-La Salle: Fivepeat versus Redemption
For the top-seeded Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles, this is where they expected to be when the season began. With 12 wins and only two losses, Coach Norman Black’s balanced attack on offense and suffocating defense have the Eagles primed for a five-peat, even though an old foe stands in their way.
Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Kiefer Ravena, Ryan Buenafe and the rest of the Hail Mary squad are no strangers to playoff pressure and are overwhelming favorites to use their twice-to-beat advantage to the fullest when dueling with archrivals La Salle on September 29.
The once-mighty De La Salle program returns to the Final Four with Gee Abanilla in charge and leaning on the talents of Norbert Torres in the middle and Jeron Teng at the wing. Needing to win their elimination duel with Far Eastern University to get to the semis, La Salle used a 17-0 run late in the fourth quarter to take a late lead versus the Tamaraws.
The Green Archers then had to survive back-to-back triples by Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia before finally returning to the playoffs with a 69-66 win.
Now, they’ll only have days to recover before needing to beat the hated Eagles twice for a trip to the Finals.
In two games versus Ateneo this season, La Salle has gotten stellar play from their guards. LA Revilla led them in the first round, then Almond Vosotros did his best Revilla impression in round two. In both games, however, the Green and White fell in the end.
Salva and Slaughter led Katipunan’s finest in their first-round encounter, while Buenafe and Ravena took up the cudgels the next time they dueled.
To add some fuel to the fire, in the entire history of the Final Four format in the UAAP, a No. 4 seed has never knocked off a No. 1 seed. Then again, this is Ateneo versus La Salle. Throw all the records out the window when these ancient adversaries square off.
UST-NU: Cats and dogs collide
During the pre-season, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) was viewed by Ateneo mentor Norman Black as the most dangerous squad. Coach Pido Jarencio was returning an intact line-up and was bringing back Aljon Mariano after a year of inactivity.
The Growling Tigers have proven to be every bit as dangerous as advertised, particularly with Karim Abdul emerging as an MVP candidate, while Mariano has become a threat both from the outside and driving to the hoop. The long-distance threats that are Jeric Fortuna, Clark Bautista, Jeric Teng and Kevin Ferrer have pushed UST into the No. 2 spot in the Final Four.
They now enjoy their own twice-to-beat advantage over the upstart National University (NU) Bulldogs.
Coach Eric Altamirano opened his second season with the Bulldogs optimistic about improving from last year’s fifth place finish. Pre-season tournaments were good for NU, and more progress was expected of 2011 UAAP MVP Bobby Ray Parks, Jr.
Despite a rocky and inconsistent start, the Bulldogs eventually found their collective game and rattled off some crucial wins to close the eliminations. Most important among them was the replay of their second round contest versus FEU.
That first meeting ended on a too-close-to-call last second lay-up by RR Garcia that supposedly ended the game in the Tamaraws’ favor. Even though UAAP Commissioner Ato Badolato ruled that the FEU win should stand, when elevated to the UAAP Executive Committee, the win was wiped out, forcing the Bulldogs and Tamaraws into a rubbermatch.
For that replay, momentum swings were the order of the day as neither Bert Flores’ quintet nor Altamirano’s crew were willing to give ground. Eventually landing in overtime, it was a cold-blooded triple by Parks that finally sealed FEU’s fate, propelling NU into the Final Four for the first time in over a decade through an 84-81 triumph.
Now, Parks, Emmanuel Mbe, Dennis Villamor, Jeoff Javillonar, Mark de Guzman and Gelo Alolino will have to come up with huge efforts in order to beat the pride of España, not once, but twice in order to earn a Finals berth.
In their first encounter this season, the Bulldogs had a double-digit lead at the half before Jeric Teng’s guns waxed hot leading the Tigers to a 77-71 come-from-behind victory. In their second-round encounter, UST once again came back, this time from a 31-14 halftime deficit, to force overtime behind Mariano and Teng. Fortuna hit a huge triple to force the extra period and Mariano sealed the win for the Tigers, 58-57.
Now that the Final Four of UAAP Season 75 have been determined, expect the tension to rise even further as the march to the Finals nears its conclusion.