(note: pictures not mine. 🙂 )
It’s no secret to most that I’m an Atenean, and I guess that’s why the facts sometimes (okay, most of the time) often swell into metaphors every time I talk about the UAAP team – whether this year’s or last year’s, or any other’s.
But I am also a basketball fan. And I think for the first time in years, I’ve been enjoying Final Four basketball, the stories that unfold, the heroes, demigods and villains that enter the picture, without any ball and chain attached to my neck. I think the same goes for the coming Finals match. Without a shade of blue (NU dropped out too, so…) save for Araneta and/or MOA Arena’s courts, I get to enjoy such a high level of college hoops and a high, if not savage level of fanaticism from other schools. Yes, again, without direct consequences to my well-being. And I get to blog without much metaphorical bias (or so we think).
Now, we might as well bring out the cassette tapes of Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls, don those hip hop jerseys and cargo pants (low waist), and watch Tabing Ilog. We’re going back to the 90s. It’s DLSU vs UST!
For the benefit of those born after the Era of the Eagles, or were still too young to care (for those who were there, please correct me if I miss out on anything) :
In the more recent years of the UAAP (the 90s count as part of the modern era), the UST Tigers were the first to string together a cycle of championships. Four to be exact. From 1993 to 1996. (I’m using the year they won it, as opposed to school years.)
But to grasp how special that was, a bit of history: The league, as you might know, institutes a Final Four System, wherein the Top Four are rewarded with what can be the equivalent of “playoff spots.” In 1993, the rules stated that if a team swept the eliminations, they will automatically be champions. Pretty logical, eh? But bad for TV, I guess. So they instated the Step Ladder: if you sweep eliminations, you get one automatic Finals Slot, and there’s a convoluted way of number 3 going against number 2, etc. to decide who gets to challenge you who’s supposedly beaten everybody else already.
In any case, in 1993, before the rules changed, UST swept the eliminations. So automatic champions. Then came 1994, 1995, and 1996. And guess who they faced there? Yes. La Salle. All three years.
FEU then gave a bit of breathing room for the league when they won the crown in 1997 against La Salle. But in 1998, after four years of bridesmaid finishes, La Salle finally became champion. And they would be so until 2001, establishing their own reign in the UAAP.
After the reign of Gold, and then the reign of Emerald, were the back-and-forth years:
Then Ateneo came in 2002, to win an improbable championship.
FEU in 2003, 2004, and 2005 (2004 should have gone to La Salle, but they had shenanigans on eligibility. So FEU gave the league another break between championship cycles.) Then UST defeated Ateneo in 06. 2007 went to La Salle after they beat the UE Red Warriors (The stepladder we talked about earlier was in play here because UE swept the eliminations. But they fell to the Archers when it mattered most. Had the Warriors done this around 15 years earlier, they would have become champions, I guess.)
In 2008, the Eagles broke the old cycle of four rule, establishing their dominance from that year straight till 2012. Doing so gave them the longest championship streak by any school in the Final Four Era: Five straight First Place Finishes. (UE has a streak of six from the older days of the UAAP. The Eagles tried to tie that this year, I guess, but…).
But enough of the Eagles. Now, the stage is set for a rematch of the Kings of Old.
Of course there’s the Teng vs. Teng battle. 4th year Jeric for UST. 2nd year Jeron for La Salle. Of course you’d want Jeric to win because it might be his last year, Jeron still has two more years, etc. etc. But nah. Anyone who has a brother and is competitive enough to love basketball knows that this is no different from one-on-ones in the neighborhood court. You try to keep the younger brother “in his place” but the younger brother tries to upstage the kuya. All in good competition. The only winner here is Alvin Teng. Great to see him, actually. He’ll be in the stands. Jarencio will be coaching. Caidic and Limpot on the other bench. Talk about throwback!
But both teams have a good story this year. If they were contestants on an ABS-CBN reality show, they’d both have amazing sob stories to tell. La Salle changed its coaching staff two weeks before the start of the season. Went down to the wild mix in the middle of the pack at the end of the first round. Then went up all the way for nine straight victories (so far) to the championship. Jeron Teng’s free throw shooting is getting more reliable. The bench is superb and the depth is something to be scared about. The frontline is getting smarter. Coach Juno Sauler is looking more and more like a genius. And his motto: Just keep getting better everyday.
Coach Nash Racela of FEU called La Salle, “The New Ateneo,” meaning La Salle is most probably the team with enough depth, firepower and maturity to string together championships again. Sauler is as level-headed as ever: just keep getting better everyday and let’s see where that takes us.
Meanwhile, UST was relegated to the middle of the pack until the end of the second round. They had to play against Ateneo for fourth place. Then had to beat NU twice. And miracle of miracles. Coach Pido still has some magic and fight in his pockets. They became the first Fourth Placer to unseat the First Placer. From almost leaving UST to getting them back to the Finals. (Jarencio for three! SWOOSH! Jawo would be proud.)
Both teams are peaking at the right time. Both teams have good frontlines. The guards battle probably goes to La Salle. Depth also goes to La Salle – especially if Vosotros finds his rhythm again and Perkins continues his rampage. Wingmen – UST. Coaching – draw. Both are able to get the best out of their players at the time they need it, or steady their hearts if need be.
That said, I honestly don’t know whether to pick Gold or Green. I guess this year, I just get to simply enjoy the fact that for the first time since 1999, and after their epic battles even in the mid90s, we’ve got two titans trying to rule the earth again.
OVERTIME: WATCHING THE UST-ATENEO GAME IN UST HOSPITAL
Watching Ateneo fall to UST was tough (watching your team fall to any team is tough), not just because it booted us out of the Final Four for the first time in 15 years, but because I had to watch the game on a UST hospital bed (for those who don’t know, the UST hospital is right in the heart of the Pontifical Campus).
I had dengue. Was admitted in UST because my tito is a doctor there. Was admitted on a Saturday. And one of my concerns, believe it or not, was if i would have to stay in the hospital until Wednesday and watch the game there. Well, I ended up having to do so.
I remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when Frodo and Sam were nearing Mount Doom. Outside, Aragorn and his troops were trying to lure the Eye’s gaze away from the two hobbits so they could finish their mission. So Frodo and Sam got to see all the evil creatures from Mordor troop out and head toward the Black Gate where the battle was going to be.
It felt like that. Minus the evil, of course. Everyone was in yellow. EVERYONE. By 2PM, much of the crowd was gone. Not trooping to the Black Gate but to the LRT station probably, to go to Araneta. By 330, everyone was going to the Plaza Mayor, where they had set up a JumboTron.
When UST set up its big first half lead, it was noisy outside. It didn’t matter that the church and hospital were nearby. It didn’t help that the JumboTron was around a second early in its telecast. So when UST was going to make a shot, you knew whether it went in or not because the horde outside was happy.
Then Ateneo made its run, and I was connected to the dextrose but cheering. The crowd outside was silent. Ha. Then UST made its counter-run, and the crowd was back, roaring. Even more loudly this time because the game was about to end. But Ateneo made a swashbuckling, last-minute run and almost had the game, too. The nurses came in and wanted to switch my IV hand (because my left hand was already swollen), but I asked them if they can come back after the game. They obliged, but not before smiling and watching a bit of the game in my hospital room.
But alas. The happy horde wasn’t to be denied its revelry. And throughout the night, there was much merriment outside my hospital window.
Yes, the nurses came back after the game. And I had to congratulate them. And I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but I think I registered my lowest platelet count the morning after.