UAAP Finals Flashback: The last time an Ateneo-La Salle championship series went the distance
ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 03, 2017 09:57 AM
A tale of Game 3s
The UAAP season 80 men’s basketball tournament will boil down to one final game.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles, then armed with a 1-0 Finals lead, looked poised to win the title in Game 2 when they took a commanding 21-point lead over the De La Salle Green Archers early in the first half.
But the defending champion Green Archers, sparked by a feisty Kib Montalbo, an inspired Ricci Rivero, a dominant Ben Mbala, and a resurgent Andrei Caracut, rallied past the Blue Eagles to tie the series and force a winner-take-all game slated this Sunday, December 3.
And now, we’re faced with the two sweetest words in UAAP basketball: Game Three.
The last two times an Ateneo-La Salle Finals clash was pushed to a deciding game was back in 2001, and 2002, more than 15 years ago, with both schools splitting the spoils.
Let’s look back at the epic clash between the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers in the 64th and 65th season of the UAAP men’s basketball Finals that went the distance, as a preview of the upcoming chapter of this historic rivalry.
2001: A DLSU Odyssey
Since Ateneo and La Salle’s last Finals clash back in 1988, the two squads went on separate paths before rekindling their storied rivalry.
The Blue Eagles took home the title back in ’88, but the Green Archers scored back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 before UST and FEU burst into the UAAP basketball scene for much of the decade.
Behind sweet-shooting guard Ren-Ren Ritualo, and the crafty Don Allado powering the Franz Pumaren-led Green Archers, La Salle was fast becoming a dynasty, scoring a three-peat from 1998-2000.
Meanwhile, Ateneo was deep into its so-called “dark ages”, with their title drought stretching into 13 years, but the best was yet to come heading into season 64.
UAAP 2001 FINALS, GAME 1: La Salle 74, Ateneo 68
With DLSU focused on extending its dominance by claiming its fourth straight championship, the rebirth of the rivalry was on. Ateneo, with its best collection of players in a long time, had the best possible chance to put an end to the dark ages.
The Green Archers proved why they were three-time defending champs, showing their championship poise by going on a huge fourth quarter run to down the Blue Eagles and to move one win away from their four-peat.
UAAP 2001 FINALS, GAME 2: Ateneo 76, La Salle 72
With their backs against the wall, Ateneo forced a deciding match behind a masterful 22-point performance. by blossoming big man Enrico Villanueva.
It was also Villanueva who found Magnum Membrere for a three-pointer to put the game away and to keep the Blue Eagles alive.
The victory also marked Ateneo’s first win over DLSU that season, after three attempts.
UAAP 2001 FINALS, GAME 3: La Salle 93, Ateneo 88
The deciding game was a shootout between DLSU’s Carlo Sharma and Ateneo’s LA Tenorio, who dropped 22 points, and 30 points respectively.
Sharma’s production was a career-high for him, and it came at the best possible time. He made 11 of his 22 markers in the fourth quarter, helping the DLSU Green Archers claim their fourth straight UAAP championship.
It was a fitting end to Ritualo’s collegiate career, who got his number 4 jersey retired after leading La Salle to a rare four-peat.
2002: Ateneo's Great Revenge
Revenge was the main storyline in the UAAP season 65 Finals.
For Ateneo, it was redemption for the previous season’s devastating loss at the hands of De La Salle.
Meanwhile, the Green Archers wanted to exact revenge to the Blue Eagles, who stained their undefeated record at the final game of the elimination round, to deny a sweep, and an outright Finals berth for DLSU in a shocking 83-71 win.
UAAP 2002 FINALS, GAME 1: Ateneo 72, La Salle 70
With unfinished business from last year, Enrico Villanueva took over late in the game, scoring Ateneo’s final ten points to seal Game 1 for the blue side.
This game served as a huge statement not just for the Blue Eagles, but also for Larry Fonacier whose iconic block on Mark Cardona proved to be the difference maker to help move Ateneo one win away from redemption.
UAAP 2002 FINALS, GAME 2: La Salle 85, Ateneo 77
Again, championship poise proved to be La Salle’s edge against an Ateneo squad that was deemed as “tense” in Game 2.
After struggling in the first game, Mike Cortez was sat down by Coach Franz to have a talk, reminding his ward that as a veteran, he should lead his teammates by example.
Facing elimination, the Green Archers, and Cortez were on fire to start the second game, taking a commanding 18-point lead over Ateneo by the end of the first half, 50-32.
Cortez finished with 21 points as De La Salle evened up the series to force a deciding Game 3.
UAAP 2002 FINALS, Game 3: Ateneo 77, La Salle 70
With DLSU gaining momentum from a convincing Game 2 win, a five-peat looked imminent heading into the third and final game of the season.
Timely baskets from Wesley Gonzales and then-rookie LA Tenorio early on helped the Blue Eagles take the lead, however slim, over La Salle heading into the payoff period, 56-52 for the first time in the Finals series.
Enrico Villanueva, the season MVP, put on a career-defining performance in final game as a Blue Eagle, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds, capped off by four assists, and two steals as they hold off a fierce rally by DLSU to bring home the title back to Katipunan for the first time since 1988.
The win was an apt send-off for Villanueva, who helped Ateneo halt fierce rival La Salle’s consecutive championship run to four titles.