It has been decided. The Blue Eagles are the kings.
The determined and ever strong Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) Blue Eagles swept archrivals and defending champions De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers, 62-51, to claim the championship title in the 71st UAAP men’s basketball tournament in yet another blockbuster and historic match-up graced by tens of thousands of fans of the Blue and Green at the Araneta Coliseum, Cubao, Quezon City on September 25.
After waiting and falling short for six years, the Blue Eagles finally reclaimed UAAP glory amidst 22,955 adoring fans and spectators.
The victory was Ateneo’s fourth UAAP men’s basketball crown overall since joining the UAAP in 1978. ADMU won it back-to-back in 1987 and 1988 followed by the 2002 title after a 14-year drought.
In terms of the Finals showdown series between the archrivals, Ateneo extended its winning lead to 3-1 after claiming the 1988, 2002 and this year’s title with La Salle only emerging victorious in their 2001 Finals battle.
Looking into their entire Season 71 performance, the Blue Eagles made their best run in years following its 13-1 eliminations record losing only to the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws and now sweeping its nemesis La Salle in the Finals.
This was also the only season wherein Ateneo has defeated La Salle in all of their (four) meetings this year) under the leadership of Coach Franz Pumaren.
Ateneo’s massive inside shooting became a testament of their power with 65% compared to only 34.62 % of DLSU, which saw its lowest quarter scoring of only four points in the fourth quarter.
Moreover, aside from their daunting defense, the Eagles banked on their fast breaks converting 10 markers against only four from the Archers.
Team Captain Chris Tiu led Ateneo’s surge firing 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
According to Tiu, it was the character of his teammates as well as the support of the coaching staff that lifted them to triumph saying, “It’s the character of the guys [that won the game], all of them stepped up. The coaching staff also did a good job of motivating us they pushed us up to improve.”
Meanwhile, Finals MVP Nonoy Baclao and Ateneo main defender finished with eight points, 10 boards and four blocks.
Baclao was worthy of the distinction as Coach Norman Black expressed, “He is really the cornerstone of our defense.”
In the final canto, Bader Malabes’ foul gave Tiu three free throws that tallied the game, 53-47.
Hyram Bagatsing was then fouled as Ryan Buenafe split his charities, 54-47.
Walsham brought home his basket with 3:52 left putting the Archers within five 54-49.
La Salle continued its fould trouble. James Mangahas committed the infraction sending Nonoy Baclao on the line to split his charities, 55-49.
With 2:20 left Baclao knocked down a key shot extending the Eagles’ lead to eight, 57-49.
The Eagles’ did not want to look back as Jai Reyes expanded the lead bringing it back to double-digits, 59-49 with 1:21 remaining.
Relying on fouls to battle the ticking time, DLSU failed to surpass the mighty Eagles as Reyes split his free throws extending the lead to 11, 60-49.
Walsham made La Salle’s last stand with 31 seconds remaining putting it at 60-51 as Reyes’ another split charity wrapped up the final tally.
According to Reyes, his team’s defense made the difference throughout the game thus helping them dethrone La Salle sharing, “Coach [Norman Black] told us to play defense, ‘forget about everything else, just play defense’ and it’s true. Defense was [what brought us the] championship.”
The Blue Eagles wrapped up the first quarter with a 16-10 lead over the Green Archers.
La Salle started hot blasting a 5-0 run as Ateneo star player and this year’s MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini met early foul trouble obtaining two fouls in the opening quarter.
Bader Malabes and Ferdinand scored DLSU’s first four points as JV Casio split his charities coming from a technical foul from Ryan Buenafe to post an early five-point lead for the Archers.
The Eagles slowly climbed back with Baclao unloading a trey that put Ateneo on the board followed by Mike Baldos to make it 5-8.
DLSU failed to convert points as Ateneo zoomed. After LA Revilla made a shot, Chris Tiu tied the game at 10-all.
Jobe Nkemakolam knocked down his shot as Tiu completed his charities from a JV Casio foul. Raymond Austria nailed his basket to end the first quarter in favor of the Blue and White, 16-10.
The Katipunan-based squad rallied on fire posting an early 10-point bubble early in the second quarter, 27-17.
Ateneo’s assault continued as La Salle struggled with its shooting to end the first half with a 15-point cushion, 41-26.
Nkemakolam was the surprise man for the Blue Eagles in the second quarter, delivering six of his eight-point output in the said frame sustaining Ateneo’s advantage after scoring Ateneo’s last four points in the said frame.
Meanwhile Tiu, knocked down a total of nine points in the second frame including a trey that paved the way to the eventual 10-point cushion, 27-17.
La Salle managed to trim the lead to five courtesy of a triple by Rico Maierhofer putting it, 18-15.
Eric Salamat answered with a basket but was again equalized by Maierhofer putting it 20-17.
Maierhofer sufferered a technical foul sending Tiu on the line making it 22-17.
Casio and Hyram Bagatsing unleashed their own treys to try to lift the Archers, 33-26.
At the opening of the third quarter, Casio and Maierhofer started La Salle’s 5-0 attack within the starting two minutes.
DLSU relied on its strong outside-the-paint scoring led by Casio to outscore ADMU in the third frame by 21-9 that marked a massive comeback for the Archers.
Both teams feeling the pressure and momentum traded points with Ateneo protecting its advantage.
Al-Hussaini scored followed by Baldos’ buzzer-beater sustaining the Eagles on top, 45-31.
Casio blasted a trey to cut the lead to nine, 35-34 but Al-Hussaini responded to make it 47-34.
Reyes was fouled as DLSU rookie Revilla nailed a triple cutting the Eagles’ lead to 10, 47-37.
The Taft-based squad began a roll as Casio knocked down a three with 2:07 left cutting Ateneo’s margin to six, 49-43.
Meanwhile, Maierhofer suffered yet another techinical foul causing his ejection due to a “dirty finger” with 1:31 remaining in the third frame.
Al-Hussaini was sent on the line but split his free throws, 50-43.
Determined to get back on the driver’s seat, DLSU rallied 4-0 including a triple by James Mangahas with 50 seconds left to close the third frame just three-points behind Ateneo, 50-47.
Within the period, Casio gained his fourth foul as Salamat missed his charities. Baclao was then fouled but Bagatsing also missed his free throws.
Nkemakolam was then called a foul sending Walsham on the line splitting his charities to end the quarter closer to the Eagles.
Casio top scored the Archers with 19 markers, five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Meanwhile, PJ Walsham contributed eight points.
On the other hand, this season’s MVP and Ateneo top-gunner Rabeh Al-Hussaini was limited to seven points, all of which he drilled in the third frame due to early fouls. He also contributed five boards, an assist and a block.
When asked about grabbing the championships, the six-foot-six center remarked, “Sobrang overwhelming… Hindi ko akalaing magcha-champion kami ngayon. Noong first half off ako, [because of] foul trouble. Noong second half, naging maganda naman so we won the championship.”
Ateneo mentor Norman Black expressed his utmost happiness with the Eagles’ victory saying “It’s a good feeling. Masaya talaga ako (I’m really happy)”.
With La Salle top man JV Casio fouled out, Black went on saying, “We weren’t able to stop JV Casio at least we were able to control him.. We may not be the most athletic team but we are the smartest team.”
It was indeed a sweet victory for Black who beat DLSU head coach Franz Pumaren.
Remarking on this year’s Finals, DLSU head coach Franz Pumaren feeling the weight of the loss noted, “This is the worst officiating in the Finals.”