Tale of Two Series: UAAP Season 78 Men's Basketball Final Four

Paolo Mariano on Nov 20, 2015 06:08 PM
Tale of Two Series: UAAP 78 Men's Srs. Basketball Final Four
Eagles or Tamaraws? Tigers or Bulldogs? Who will advance to the UAAP Season 78 Finals?

It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.

For the teams that will advance, it’s an age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, a season of light, and a spring of hope. For the teams that will lose, it’s an age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity, a season of darkness, and a winter of despair.

The Final Four of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament is here and it with the way the four squads—University of Santo Tomas (UST), Far Eastern University (FEU), Ateneo de Manila University, and National University (NU)—have played all season, the semifinals promises to be one heck of a classic tale. 

It’s time to roll out the clichés again: throw away the stats, not about Xs and Os, who wants it more will win, it’s all about heart, etc. But no matter how worn-out they sound, they always prove to be true, especially when proud institutions are pitted against each other.

Pounce or payback?

The Growling Tigers and the Bulldogs have battled in the Final Four twice, both in the last four years.

In 2013, UST made UAAP history after eliminating NU in the Final Four. The Growling Tigers became the first team in the league to defeat the top seed. Led by Jeric Teng, Aljon Mariano, and Karim Abdul, the team typified then-head coach Pido Jarencio’s underdog, never-back-down spirit.   

The Bulldogs blew it—not once, but twice. The image of back-to-back MVP Ray Parks covered in a towel while the NU Hymn was being sung was a lasting picture of frustration. The towel was no cloak of invisibility.  

Today, NU is looking to return UST the unsolicited favor. The Bulldogs already one-upped the Growling Tigers in the record books last year after becoming the lowest seed ever to capture the UAAP crown, beating Ateneo in a memorable Final Four. What a way to bounce back. But surely, 2013’s acrimonious exit is still at the back of their minds—lingering, enduring, reminding.  

Also, UST eliminated NU in 2012, the first time the Sampaloc-based school returned to the Final Four since 2001’s magical run.

So to wit, the Growling Tigers have eliminated the Bulldogs in the post-season—not once, but twice.

God-fearing, Bible-quoting NU head coach Eric Altamirano doesn’t subscribe to seeking vengeance, but still, getting vindication isn’t awful. Players from those 2012 and 2013 teams like Gelo Alolino, Paolo Javelona, and Kyle Neypes will surely agree. Plus, with the hyper-competitiveness of Alfred Aroga, the Bulldogs have what it takes to turn the tables around on UST and achieve the feat of disposing the top seed—not once, but twice.

As for the Growling Tigers, a third straight Final Four mastery of NU wouldn’t hurt. It has been a surprising season for them to say the least, earning the top seed for the first time in 20 years despite being overlooked and belittled in preseason prognostications. But their Cinderella run wouldn’t even make it to the Prince’s Ball, or in this case, the Last Dance, if they get shocked by the defending champions.

Kevin Ferrer has been fantastic all season long, whether it’s waxing hot from long distance, soaring past defenders, battling against chocolates, or just displaying maturity and leadership. He and able sidekick Ed Daquioag, both named to the Mythical Five, have lost twice in the finals already. They’ve been very vocal about wanting to erase that stigma in their swan song.

“Hindi dapat mangyari sa amin ‘yung nangyari sa kanila dati na no. 1 sila pero tinalo namin na no. 4. We’re going to treat the game (on Sunday) like it’s a championship game,” said Daquioag. 

With most of their core players graduating, it’s now or never for the Growling Tigers. 

Settling the score

FEU and Ateneo have also met in the Final Four twice, but not in the last 14 years.

It’s quite surprising. For all the post-season stints of both schools in recent memory, this is only the first time in more than a decade that they will square off in the semifinals. In contrast to UST and NU, there’s not much malevolent history between the Tamaraws and the Blue Eagles.

The last time they met was in 2001. Ateneo was a powerhouse squad bannered by two-time MVP Rich Alvarez, Enrico Villanueva, Paolo Bugia, Larry Fonacier, and rookie sensation L.A. Tenorio. But it was Magnum Membrere who came up with the big shot, draining a cold-blooded three-pointer in the final minute to break a 63-all deadlock. The Blue Eagles won, 67-63.

It was sweet revenge for the Men in Blue as they lost to the Tams the previous year despite holding the twice-to-beat incentive.

Ateneo swept FEU in the elimination that season and held a six-game winning streak heading into the post-season. But the boys from Morayta, coached by Koy Banal, hacked out an upset win in their first encounter in the Final Four. Miko Roldan sank the game-winning jumper as the Tamaraws escaped by the skin of their teeth, 61-60.

Then in the do-or-die battle, Edwin Bacani and Celino Cruz fired 23 and 16 points, respectively to send the Blue Eagles packing, 75-67. At that time, FEU was only the third team in league history to topple the higher seed.

But even without a more colorful, antagonistic storyline, it’s now time for them to settle the score and untie their post-season knot.

Kiefer Ravena, newly minted back-to-back MVP and arguably the most celebrated player in UAAP history, could be playing in his final game. Of course, he wants to extend his illustrious collegiate career as long as he can. Knowing his caliber, he’s made for cardiac arrest-inducing games.

“(It’s going to be an) all-out war. We’re coming in prepared just like FEU. It’s about the details, execution, and who wants it more,” said Ravena.

There’s also Von Pessumal, who has played second fiddle to “The Phenom” since high school. This season, he’s truly come out of his own, carrying the cudgels for Ateneo when his longtime running mate is bricking shots all over.

Advancing to the finals after an embarrassing end last season and an uncharacteristically controversy-filled campaign this year will definitely be a terrific mulligan.

The Tamaraws, on the other hand, have lived up to the billing of being the title favorites. Heck, they even win with their second and third stringers. It’s a testament to their chemistry and well-run system. Their players may not snag individual awards but they’re surely in the running to take home the most cherished trophy.

“Dapat hindi naming isipin na twice-to-beat kami. Dapat and mindset naming is knockout game ‘yung laban against Ateneo,” said Roger Pogoy.

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