WHAT IF… Bullpups denied Kai, SJ, and Dave a championship?

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Jun 24, 2020 05:29 PM
WHAT IF… Bullpups denied Kai, SJ, and Dave a championship?
Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel, and Kai Sotto were all part of the Mythical Team en route to their championship run in UAAP 80

History lesson: In a single season, Ateneo de Manila High School had 7-foot-2 Kai Sotto, primetime playmaker SJ Belangel, and super scorer Dave Ildefonso alongside versatile forwards Jason Credo and Joaqui Manuel.

For sure, that core was good enough to win it all - and did just that in their last year all together in UAAP 80.

The Blue Eaglets swept the elimination round and as such, automatically advanced into the Finals.

There, they matched up opposite modern-day rival Nazareth School of National University, but after a convincing 86-70 victory in Game 1, the series looked like a mismatch.

Only, the Bullpups thought otherwise.

In particular, sharpshooter Migs Oczon turned in his best game yet and scored eight of his 17 points in the payoff period to shoot his team to a 70-67 decision.

And so, come the winner-take-all Game 3, momentum was, all of a sudden, with the blue and gold.

Even more, the lead was actually with National U inside the last five minutes of Game 3.

Their six-point lead, though, would not hold as Belangel, Sotto, and Manuel rallied Ateneo to a well-earned 63-58 win.

The backbreaker for the Bullpups proved to be the towering teen's putback of Manuel's miss that put his team back ahead with under two minutes left.

He did that at the expense of solid rebounders Michael Malonzo and Rhayyan Amsali.

But what if they just got that one rebound?

If so, the edge would have remained with National U - albeit a one-point edge at that - and they could then build on it at the other end.

However, Kai is Kai and there will always be a good to great chance of him making that same play.

In that case, the better what if for the boys from Sampaloc is this: what if Terrence Fortea never cooled down?

The gunslinger's floater, triple, and assist to Amsali was the backbone of the run that put them on top, 54-48, with 4:18 remaining.

From that point, however, Fortea got locked up and was unable to impact the game any further.

Of course, he was just 16-years-old during that time - and really, in his first year as one of his side's big guns.

At the same time, though, the 5-foot-11 guard had already been playing three seasons for National U at that point.

With that, there was also a good to great chance that he would have broken free from the shackles of the Blue Eaglets' defense in the endgame.

If so, with Fortea remaining red-hot, National U then completes a comeback from the ages - besting their elimination round-sweeping opponents in three games.

Not only would they deny Ateneo a perfect season, they would deny all of Sotto, Belangel, Ildefonso, Credo, and Manuel of a championship altogether.

The Bullpups would then head into their title defense even scarier, welcoming Gerry Abadiano, Kevin Quiambao, and Carl Tamayo with open arms.

Still, their top gun would, without a doubt, be Fortea.

For the Blue Eaglets, Belangel, Credo, Ildefonso, and Manuel fall short of moving on from the Jrs. on the highest of highs and that contending core winds up as an underachiever.

For his part, however, Sotto comes back with a vengeance, and may very well have done better than his MVP campaign of 25.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.6 blocks.

More than that, the tantalizing talent puts Ateneo his back all the way to a rematch with National U - and the roles would then be reversed.

National U is the favorite while Ateneo is the underdog.

And then, who knows, it would be Kai Sotto doing a Terrence Fortea.

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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