QUEZON CITY (The Filipino Connection)—Today’s UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals matchup is not the frequently-hyped rivalry between Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, not the elitist crowd drawer that perks up annual UAAP basketball games market-wise. But while the Green Archers square off with the University of Santo Tomas in this season’s best-of-three championship series, expect thrillers that are worthy of hype —worthy of the market’s lure.
Remember 22-year-old Bal David in Game 3 of the 1994 season? Off a foul by eventual Ginebra teammate Elmer Lago, David sank two freethrows in the last six seconds. Then with DLSU coach Virgil Villavicencio not calling a timeout in the ensuing play, Mark Telan missed a jumper then Lago also muffed two follow-up shots near the rim. Final score: 77-76. Pandemonium followed at the Cuneta Astrodome (then a leading venue of PBA games) that Oct. 8 evening. Chants of “De-o! De-de-deo!” howled from the UST crowd.
The following year, with UST searching for a three-peat (The Tigers won the 1993 season via a 14-game sweep), Game 3 again went down-the-wire. Leading by one, Dale Singson drove to the basket for the final score, 67-64, and point guard Tony Boy Espinosa missed an off-balanced triple at the buzzer. That day, Oct. 7, 1995, the Dennis Espino-led Thomasian title run became three.
And while UST swept the best-of-three series in 1996, the winning game on Oct. 8, 1996 was no blowout. Lefty streak-shooter Henry Ong (remember him?) drained a three and completed a three-point play in the dying minutes. Then rookie guard Angelo Velasco struck for five points to complete a comeback win and cap off a four-peat performance.
The Archers were aching to win a title in 1997, and they beat the Tigers in the Final Four but lost to the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in the finals. Two years after, again it was La Salle versus UST and the series reached a Game 3. UST was leading, 67-64, in the dying seconds of regulation given Gilbert Lao’s freethrow that just trickled in. But Dino Aldeguer drained a cold-blooded three at the top of the key to force overtime.
Florendo “Renren” Ritualo, Jr. then made a twisting shot for a two-point DLSU lead; after a Velasco miss, Archer Ronald Cuan canned a freethrow off Lao’s foul for the final score, 78-75. UST had one last chance, but Velasco (hoping for a repeat of his 1996 heroics as a rookie) missed a long triple —hitting the back of the rim. After ten years, the Franz Pumaren-mentored Archers made it a two-peat, part of DLSU’s own four-peat feat that ended in 2001.
Those were the days of the 1990s when both squads produced players who became PBA superstars and who donned the national tri-colors. In those days, Ateneo and La Salle jackets weren’t sold in mainstream department stores; the UAAP was broadcast —in English— on PTV 4; and the PBA was still the top crowd-drawing league thanks to then-retiring Robert Jaworski, Jr., Alvin Patrimonio, Johnny Abarrientos and, of course, Ginebra San Miguel.
During that three-year stretch of UST’s victories over La Salle, both lineups were evenly matched. Like today.
All UST-DLSU title games in the 1990s were thrillers, too typical of a UAAP championship game whatever school gets in there. Expect that today, probably ‘till game three.
One team is still hot given a nine-game winning streak, and is favored to win this season’s championship. But the other team, with an up-and-down season, peaked at the right time and played never-say-die like the coach’s former PBA team Ginebra —upending Ateneo and knocking off top seed National University twice in the Final Four.
DLSU dominated UST in elimination matches the previous decade (even during UST’s 2006 title run over Ateneo), not until Santo Tomas broke that curse a few years ago. Since then, both schools have had close games.
Like this season. UST scored a 63-58 overtime win in round 1, but La Salle bounced back with a 64-69 win that’s part of the nine-game winning run.
One, though, cannot be sure with streaks. Remember the University of the East in 2007? The Red Warriors swept all 14 elimination round games to barge outright into the finals, then they lost both games to the Archers. FEU this year blitzed in the first round, but La Salle drubbed them in the games that mattered.
But people are sure that even without dethroned champions Ateneo, today’s UAAP cage euphoria —something the PBA misses oh-so-much for over 15 years now— will boom. Student-fans are crazy —or crazier, comparing then and now— over their teams, restless over fits of uncertainty on the court by their players (like when UST posts a big lead then gets chased at, then the Tigers eventually win).
During the 1994 championship series, it was the battle of the scathing banners —DLSU’s “Tuition ninyo, baon ko lang”
versus UST’s “Hi Jason (Webb!) – Carmela (Vizconde),” given that the height of the 1994 Vizconde massacre involved Archer point guard Jason Webb’s elder brother Hubert. Now, there are friendlier memes (like that of the Teng brothers) in today’s social media world. The school chants have also slightly changed (“Deo-deo, deo-deo, deo-deo, deo-deo. UST!”), and excitement and hype have spread online that’s not present during the pre-email era that is UST’s four-peat.
What more if there’ll be a Dino Aldeguer-like three, or a Bal David-like winning freethrow to end this year’s championship series? If UST, during the 1990s, said “God is a Thomasian,” can La Salle —should the Archers win this year— say “Jesus loves La Salle”?
Disclosure: Realyn Stevens, a sophomore college student, and Prof. Jeremaiah Opiniano are with the University of Santo Tomas Journalism program.
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