Unforgettable UAAP Final Four Moments
Gerry Plaza on Nov 04, 2019 05:33 PM
Buzzer-beaters, upsets and historic wins made the UAAP men's basketball Final Four unforgettable in the past two decades.
A Final Four in any of the UAAP seasons in the last 26 years has always been memorable and epic.
Since Season 56, the format has intensified the competitiveness in the league, as it has since given four teams the chance at a championship, instead of just two teams in the 55 seasons prior. Here we witnessed dramatic, climactic face-offs between the first and fourth placers, and the second and third placers, with the top two teams enjoying a twice-to-beat advantage. This is to determine who will slug it out in the Finals.
Yet there are rare instances when a school tops the eliminations unscathed, just like this year’s mighty Ateneo Blue Eagles, who advanced to the Finals outright after sweeping the round. In this case, a stepladder Final Four is implemented wherein the third and fourth battle each other in a do-or-die match before facing the second placer, which has a twice-to-beat advantage. And yes, these teams have made their playoff wars exciting and spectacular with a level of play that is truly exceptional.
Here are some of the most powerful, controversial, heroic, and reverberating moments in the UAAP Final Four that have been forever etched in our minds:
1) UP enters Finals for first time in 32 years in Season 81
In their first Final Four appearance in 21 years, the UP Fighting Maroons had the utmost desire to make history once more with the battlecry “Atin ‘To,” captain Paul Desiderio’s famous call to arms.
And, in Season 81, barreling into the semifinals was already a gigantic feat, having been in the cellar for quite a while in the UAAP. But they wanted more, and facing a championship-ready Adamson Soaring Falcons was an immense challenge with its lean and mean arsenal, given how the San Marcelino cagers had waylaid the competition in the eliminations, including the defending champions Ateneo.
But they were unfazed with Adamson’s twice-to-beat advantage, and in Game 1, they would beat the odds, as the Fighting Maroons and the Soaring Falcons ended up tied at 71-all with three seconds to go. As Juan Gomez de Liano was inbounding, he found an open Bright Akhuetie near the basket to convert the game-winner for UP to arrange a winner-take-all.
And in the decider, it was again a tedious trek for both teams, with the game tied for the last time at 87-all in overtime. Then, the fiery captain will again own it for the Fighting Maroons as he swooshed a jumper off Adamson’s Sean Maganti with 6.6 seconds left. With Falcon guard Jeron Lastimosa missing a three off a timeout as time ran out led to utter euphoria in the Maroon-dominated Araneta Coliseum, spilling out to the numerous UP campuses across the nation, as the Fighting Maroons entered the Finals for the first time in 32 years.
They would be denied a repeat of their 1986 title run however by the back-to-back champions Ateneo Blue Eagles, which won the Finals convincingly.
2) Blue Eagle Gec Chia’s miracle “shot” in Season 65
Season 65 was certainly the most unforgettable for the Ateneo Blue Eagles as it achieved a flurry of milestones.
Already with a well-developed line-up and the immense motivation to win it all, after their previous heartbreaking campaigns, the Eagles had beaten the league-leading and four-peat-hunting DLSU Green Archers in the last game of the eliminations, denying them a sweep and an outright finals berth.
And in third place at the end of the elims, the Eagles would face another formidable squad, the James Yap and Paul Artadi-enforced second-placers UE Red Warriors. After staging a stunning upset in the first game of their Final Four match-up, 84-78, Ateneo again engaged UE in a close, hard fought decider and both teams were tied at 70-all with 7.8 seconds left.
With LA Tenorio trapped in the offensive play, he would kick the ball out to the gutsy marksman Gec Chia, who would rise to the occasion and soar over a phalanx of defenders to make that miracle “Shot” heard everywhere as time expired. That unforgettable shot pushed the Eagles into that climactic end to a 14-year title drought in the Finals by that Herculean drubbing of La Salle.
3) FEU’s Mac Belo buries last-second corner three against La Salle in Season 77
On October 1, 2014, the defending champions DLSU Green Archers threatened the second placers FEU Tamaraws, with a menacing win in their first match in the Final Four of Season 77, nearing to book another trip to the Finals.
In Game Two, with 24 ticks remaining, the Tamaraws used up the remaining seconds with the intent of taking the last shot. FEU point guard Mike Tolomia then barreled his way through the paint, drawing two La Salle defenders and leaving Mac Belo free at the corner. With a little over two seconds to go, Tolomia would hand the ball off to Belo for a catch-and-shoot beyond the arc at the right corner and buried the three as time expired, giving the Tamaraws a return trip to the Finals.
They would, however, eventually lose to a gritty NU Bulldogs, which won their first title in 60 years.
4) FEU eliminates Ateneo with Mac Belo’s follow up buzzer beater in Season 78
In Season 78, the FEU Tamaraws would most certainly want another crack at the title, after losing to NU the previous year. And they were really scorching hot in the eliminations, ending up tied with the UST Growling Tigers at the top of the heap, but dropped to second place due to a lower quotient. In the Final Four, they would face the third placers Ateneo Blue Eagles with a twice-to-beat advantage.
On November 21, 2015, the FEU and Ateneo were stuck in a really close game with Roger Pogoy waxing hot for the Tams, and Kiefer Ravena leading all departments for the Eagles.
With ten seconds to go, Adrian Wong of Ateneo streaked for a layup after a Richard Escoto miss. Wong’s daredevil shot was deflected and the ball ended up in the hands of Mike Tolomia, who rushed back to the FEU side of the court for the final shot. He would make a gallant incursion with a near acrobatic layup with one second to go. And as the ball rimmed out, a well-positioned Mac Belo was below the basket for the quick, buzzer beating putback that once more sent the Tamaraws to the Finals. FEU would then claim their 20th title overall over the UST Growling Tigers in the Finals.
5) FEU's Miko Roldan hits game-winner against Ateneo in Season 63
Mac Belo breaking the hearts of Ateneans with that buzzer beater in Season 78 was like history repeating itself. Fifteen years earlier, the Tamaraws, led by Celino Cruz and Edwin Bacani, also engaged the Blue Eagles to a Final Four battle, with Ateneo having that twice-to-beat privilege.
Led by Rich Alvarez, LA Tenorio and Larry Fonacier, the Blue Eagles were really soaring to get that elusive title it last won in 1988. And in the first game in the Final Four, people were expecting the Blue Eagles to cruise past FEU, having beaten them twice in the elims. But the Tamaraws really gave them a hell of a match. As Andrew Cruz flubbed two charities in the dying seconds that should have given the Blue Eagles a comfortable three-point lead, FEU gunner Miko Roldan sank a semi-hook shot at the buzzer in the ensuing play to break the hearts of Ateneans everywhere and extend the series, 61-60.
In the decider, Cruz and Bacani would conspire for 39 points to complete a monster upset, 75-67, and reach the Finals. The defending champions DLSU Green Archers, led by the legendary Renren Ritualo, was just too much for the Tams in the Finals and copped their three-peat.
6) Fight-marred Ateneo-La Salle Final Four series in Season 66
Joseph Yeo was all over the court in a scoring binge while Rookie-of-the-Year JVee Casio showed a glimpse of being a clutch player as the DLSU Green Archers, the fourth seed, took their storied rivalry with defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles, the top seed, to a tenacious, heated Final Four war.
Heightened emotions were at play since Ateneo’s colossal Finals victory the previous season, and the animosity between the two ballclubs was at its fiercest and most intense.
In Game 1, after La Salle’s Jerwin Gaco’s putback sent the game into overtime, the extended play’s physicality went to overdrive. With 1:31 left in overtime, Gaco bumped LA Tenorio in the battle for the loose ball. Tenorio would then sneak a punch at Gaco, who then nudged the Ateneo guard. This led to a bench-clearing brawl, as players punched, kicked and shoved each other while the coaches tried to break up the fight even as referees whistled repeatedly. La Salle’s Ryan Arana kicked Ateneo’s Wesley Gonzales from behind and the league meted the Archer with a one-game suspension. Also suspended were Tenorio and fellow Blue Eagle Christian "Badjie" del Rosario. The Archers would prevail after the five-minute extension, 76-72.
The decider was also as heated with on-court and off-court flare-ups and violent confrontations between players and supporters. Ateneo’s steady offense, however, prevailed in the final minute, as the Blue Eagles hung on to 74-68 victory, entering the Finals for the second straight year.
FEU, however, would deny Ateneo a back-to-back run, winning the championship in two games.
7) UST trounces NU twice to become first fourth placer to eliminate the top-seed in a Final Four series in Season 76
The NU Bulldogs were on a roll, and 2013 seemed to be their year, with Bobby Ray Parks returning after back-to-back MVP seasons and leading them to reach the top of the standings at the end of eliminations. But they have their Achilles heel—the dribblers of Espana—who have exerted their mastery of the Bulldogs, winning twice in the elims.
And bad news for the Bulldogs, they would meet the UST Growling Tigers, which ended at fourth place, in the Final Four.
In Game 1, a red-hot Kevin Ferrer would lead UST to its biggest margin of 18 within the match, but they needed to fend off NU’s late charge, 71-62, to force a rubber match.
And in the winner-take-all, UST completed its mastery of top-ranked Bulldogs, again with a game-long dominance to end at 76-69, marking the first time a fourth seed would snatch a Finals berth from a first-placer in the league.
8) NU’s Alfred Aroga’s monster block on Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena in Season 77
After a frustrating loss to UST in the Season 76 Final Four, NU would get another crack at gaining that elusive Finals appearance.
But in the next chapter of the semifinals, NU will hope for a Cinderella finish to gain that berth, trying to beat the top placers Ateneo Blue Eagles, just like what UST did to them in the previous year when they were the top-seed.
Jay-Jay Alejandrino and Troy Rosario led NU’s surge in the fourth quarter of the first game to spoil Ateneo’s twice to beat to force a deciding game.
In the rubber match, no clear advantage was evident in the majority of the game. But after NU’s Gelo Alolino broke a 63-all tie with two charities off a foul from Ateneo’s Nico Elorde, 65-63, Kiefer Ravena would try to send the game to overtime with a drive against several NU defenders with three seconds left. He failed however after NU’s Alfred Aroga swatted his attempt as time expired—a monster block that brought NU to its first finals appearance in 44 years.
The Bulldogs would then wallop the FEU Tamaraws in the Finals, 2-1, to clinch their first title in 60 years.
9) Coming out party of UE’s Paul Lee in Season 72
The UE Red Warriors had come off from a heartbreaking Finals loss to the DLSU Green Archers in Season 70 after sweeping the eliminations, and another hurtful exit the succeeding year with a Final Four defeat at the hands of the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
The Red Warriors would then make another trip to the Final Four in Season 72, which was the coming out party of prolific scorer Paul Lee, as the league’s third best after the eliminations.
UE would battle second placers FEU for the chance to enter the Finals once more after the Season 70 debacle. They extended the series after Lee led a late game spurt with three consecutive three-pointers in a devastating 18-5 run, he would end up with a game-high 26 points.
In the rubber match, with UE trailing FEU in the first half, the Red Warriors would make an explosive comeback in the second half and would again rely on the dependable Lee and Pari Llagas for their late-game heroics. Llagas would lift UE up for good with two straight field goals, 72-70, while Lee showed nerves of steel as he sank four consecutive free throws at the end of the game, 78-72, to give UE their Finals ticket.
UE, however, would bow to powerhouse Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Finals in three games.
10) UST’s Jojo Duncil completes winning three-point play that frustrated UE in Season 69
By this time, the UE Red Warriors were in their fifth straight Final Four appearance. And in Season 69, UE would land at second place after the eliminations behind Ateneo, relishing its twice-to-beat advantage.
In the Final Four, UE would face a determined UST Growling Tigers, who were seeking redemption after last winning the championship in 1996, the last year of their 90s four-peat dynasty.
UST would eke out a hard-earned Game 1 victory, 79-75 victory over UE that led to a deciding Game 2.
In this clincher, both UST and UE kept the match close. And in the final quarter, with the score tied at 79-all in the dying seconds, Growling Tiger Jojo Duncil converted on a tip-in, and-1, after a previous miss and teammate Jervy Cruz’s failed putback. Duncil would then complete the three-point play to give the UST an 82-79 edge, a few seconds left.
UE’s Marcy Arellano would drive unmolested for an easy two to cut the lead to a solitary point, 82-81, nearing the end of the game. After UST committed a turnover, the Red Warriors had the chance to drop the game-winner but UE’s Jorel Cañizares missed a medium-range jump shot and a follow-up.
Teammate Robert Labagala would then grab the rebound, but time ran out on the Recto dribblers.
UST entered the Finals and annexed its first UAAP title in 10 years over the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Will there be another unforgettable Final Four moment in this current Season 82? Catch the start of the stepladder Final Four hostilities with the do-or-die match between the UST Growling Tigers and the FEU Tamaraws on Wednesday, November 6, for the right to meet the twice-to-beat second placers UP Fighting Maroons on Sunday, November 10.