ATENEO vs. UST: THE FITTING FINALS

The Golden Fiesta finally exploded. The yellow confetti rained down from the rafters. The UAAP was now going to crown its new king: The UST Growling Tigers. Led by their inspired and inspiring mentor, Pido Jarencio, they had won the championship for the Royal Pontifical University. That was 2006. Game 3 of the UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals. I was there. My heart, along with the thousands of others, was broken. I watched my Eagles fall in the third game that wasn’t even supposed to happen.

Barely a week and a half ago, UST was destroyed in Game 1 by a last second inbound play by Ateneo. Multi-titled (we say that when we’ve lost count) mentor coach Norman Black drew up a play and the Eagles executed perfectly. Doug Kramer got the ball where he was supposed to, shot the ball like he was supposed to. And Ateneo won like they were supposed to.

But Game 3, the game that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened.

Fast forward to six years later. Norman Black and the Ateneo Blue Eagles had been reaping the successes of a well-funded and well-run Basketball Program. Year after year after year, they would find good players and run the system well. And year after year after year, they would have a trophy and a celebratory bonfire to show for it. They had established dominance over the UAAP over the last four years with four straight championships. Arguably, a Dynasty.

2012. They seek their fifth straight championship. A feat that no other team has done in recent years (La Salle and UST were able to do “only” 4-peats). Norman Black had announced at the beginning of the season that it would be his last. Of course his players (especially the seniors) want to send him off with the grandest possible gift.

Just yesterday, the tournament studded with technicality and rulebook-throwing arguments finally ended its regular season and its Final Four. As the rubble and smoke cleared, Norman Black would look to the distance and find his former tormentor: Pido Jarencio and his army of gold.

Shakespeare probably couldn’t have written it better.

Apart from announcing 2012 would be his last season, Black had also declared that UST is the team he is most watching out for this year. Many predicted that NU would be Ateneo’s top contender. Or even FEU. But no, Black had his sights on UST, saying that they are the team that can match up best with his guys. Abdul cancels out Slaughter. The guards play exceptionally well. Pido Jarencio matches his Xs and Os and discipline with raw guts and rawer chutzpah. True enough, the Eaglres lost their first round battle against UST. The second round battle saw Ateneo winning, but only by a slim margin.

That is why this is the Finals that should be.

Norman Black also said once that basketball is a game of match-ups. Rankings (like 1st in defense, or 3rd in turnovers forced) are meaningless because what you have to look at are the numbers when the teams go head-to-head. And in this case, when the ABS-CBN Sports Guys finally break it down for us, I would think the numbers will tell us we’re in for a hell of a ride.

That is why this is the Finals that should be.

After Ateneo won the 2nd round battle, UST had the audacity to protest the game. The protest was denied. UST will be out to prove that they should have won. Ateneo will be out to prove that they actually did. Before, you could say that there was no rivalry between these two schools. Now, there is just too much unfinished business dating from six years back that need to be wrapped up.

That is why this is the Finals that should be.

This is the Finals Norman Black wants to win before he goes out into the sunset, with freshly-cut basketball nets draped around his neck, and lifted on the shoulders of the players who respect and love him.

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