That “insane” first Ateneo-La Salle UAAP Finals game in 1988

Gerry Plaza on Oct 01, 2016 04:05 PM
That “insane” first Ateneo-La Salle UAAP Finals game in 1988
Ateneo and La Salle faced off for the UAAP men's seniors basketball crown back in 1988 (Photo courtesy of Sports Weekly Magazine).

It was simply the most awaited championship match in collegiate basketball.

Two years since joining the UAAP, De La Salle University became a force to reckon with in the 51st season, arranging their first-ever Finals battle against the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, the defending champions that year.

Their last Finals clash was 14 years prior, when the Lim Eng Beng-powered Archers defeated the Eagles, 90-80, in the NCAA.

It was 1988. La Salle had surged since the beginning of the season, with prized National Youth recruits led by Johnedel Cardel, Jonas Mariano, and Zandro Limpot in its refurbished roster. But still the main man was the do-it-all guard Dindo Pumaren, who always carried the Green Archers on his shoulders.

Ateneo, meanwhile, was basking in glory, after that come-from-behind championship win the previous year against the Jerry Codinera-led title favorite UE Red Warriors. It had an almost intact lineup, led by point guard Jun Reyes, from that miracle 1987 Blue Eagles team, except for the hero himself Nonoy Chuatico, whose blitzkrieg of threes ignited that comeback and sealed the title victory.

Identical runs

In fact, both teams had identical runs in the eliminations, leading the pack with an 11-2 win-loss card before the deciding second round face-off to determine which school would get the twice-to-beat advantage (Editor's Note: Back in the day, the top two teams after the elimination round automatically faced off for the title with the number one seed having the twice-to-beat advantage.).

In their first meeting that year, La Salle made its presence felt as a title contender with a hard-fought 78-76 win over Ateneo behind its versatile shooter Eddie Viaplana’s string of threes at the endgame.

With egos bruised, the defeated Eagles could only wish their next game was the day after.

Both endured the wait, and had simply took the reigns in the second round as well, except that the FEU Tamaraws had upset the Archers, 78-74, and the Benjie Paras-fronted UP Maroons bamboozled the Eagles, 83-68, in a fight-marred game.

Then thousands upon thousands of Ateneans and LaSallians trooped to the oven-hot Rizal Coliseum on Oct. 2, 1988 for their second round battle. TV coverage of the UAAP games was unheard of, and those who couldn’t enter the stadium would only settle for the radio coverage on the government station, Sports Radio.

Epic battle

The battle was epic. No team had the advantage, several lead changes were recorded, and the Jun Reyes vs Dindo Pumaren duel was getting personal. Except of course Ateneo had its sparkling tower in Danny Francisco that made all the difference.

And it all came to the final seven seconds when Reyes just left Pumaren in the dust on a perilous drive to give the Blue Eagles the solitary point win, 73-72. This victory meant Ateneo needed just one more win against La Salle to clinch back-to-back titles. The Taft-based dribblers, on the other hand, needed to beat the Eagles twice to claim its first UAAP championship.

Five days later was the much anticipated, much ballyhooed 1988 UAAP Finals. Not only were students and alumni of both schools excited to watch this war heading towards its climactic end, but also the entire basketball-crazy nation. For the first time, the government TV station PTV-4 covered a collegiate championship basketball game (given that its GM was an Ateneo alumnus) live.  

Tickets to this game were simply the most in-demand item in the country, given that the non-airconditioned Rizal Coliseum had only a few thousand capacity. Hours before the game, a Lower Box ticket had been pegged by scalpers to cost P35,000. Really, it was insane.

Fever-pitch

And when game time started, and the cheers and heckles from both sides reached fever-pitch, the first Ateneo-La Salle finals game in the UAAP was underway. As both teams buckled up to business, no one had a commanding lead. Reyes was effectively directing plays, Francisco was dominating the boards and scoring second-chance points, while fellow Eagles Joseph Canlas, Jett Nieto, and Eric Reyes were also hot off the field.

In contrast, La Salle only had Pumaren scoring in double digits most of the game, as the rest of the Archers struggled, including Viaplana, Joey Santamaria, Dicky Bachmann, and Teddy Monasterio. Save for rookie Cardel, who ably supported Pumaren in the scoring chores.

But it was in the last four minutes of the game when everything became evident and destined. After their last deadlock at 66-all, Canlas led an 8-2 run with four points in that stretch, giving Ateneo a comfortable 74-68 lead in the last two minutes after Reyes converted off a steal from Santamaria.

Since then, the Archers’ backs were broken, and Pumaren could only muster the final two points for La Salle on the free throw line off a Nieto foul, to cut the lead to four, 74-70. With just a few seconds remaining, Ateneo simply played the clock and Francisco drew a foul from Santamaria and converted two free throws in the last four seconds to nail the final count, 76-70.  As the La Sallians stood in silence, the entire Ateneo gallery was in jubilation as their beloved Blue Eagles notched one of its most cherished and important championships ever in its history of varsity competitions.

 

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