THE GRASS ISN’T ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE, THIS TIME IT IS
Oct 31,2013 0 Comments
DLSU WINS UAAP 76 MEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Words by: Rosario “Chats” A. Santiago
October 11, 2012. The Ateneo Blue Eagles have swept the UST Growling Tigers to claim their historic five-peat championship in the UAAP. In so doing, the Hail Mary squad also exorcised the demons from six years before, when it fell to the boys of La Naval in game three of season 69.
September 18, 2013. The two protagonists from last year’s UAAP finals were back in action against each other. And perhaps, depending on how one looks at it, in an encounter that was far more crucial than their bout 11 months ago. This time, they were fighting for survival, a chance to stay alive this season, for the last slot in the Final Four. For the boys of Katipunan, this do-or-die scenario was something they hadn’t known in a while. And despite a gallant third period stand, at the end of 40 minutes, it was time to say goodbye – to the glory of the five-peat; to the dream of a sixth straight crown. And so the brave crew from España hopped on to the last bus to season 76, where they were to face the NU Bulldogs, the number one squad all season long.
As it turned out, the Tigers would overpower the Bulldogs in straight games en route to a return trip to the finals, where the De La Salle Green Archers were waiting. For both squads, this championship probably had a deeper significance beyond the obvious. For the Taft-based crew, this was the much-coveted prize at the end of what had been a long, bleak, and often disheartening tunnel. The boys in green had not been back in the final dance since losing their crown to Ateneo in season 71. For UST, this was another precious shot at the title, and they were eager to accomplish what they couldn’t last year against the Blue Eagles.
Each year, days before the start of the men’s basketball championship, all sorts of historical data would come out in the papers, or go viral on the net. Things like, “X times out of Y, the winner of game one goes on to bag the crown,” and so on. Well, the first game went pretty much the way of the opening encounter between UST and Ateneo in season 69. Oh wait, if we’re to speak in terms of the final score alone, it went EXACTLY like that game between the Eagles and Tigers seven years ago, ending with a tally of 73-72. Back then, ADMU edged UST at the final buzzer. This time, it was UST that escaped with the squeaker over DLSU.
While the second game of this year’s finals wasn’t a blowout like the 87-71 drubbing of the Eagles by the Tigers in season 69, it did also favor the first game casualty, with De La Salle bouncing back to even the series via a 77-70 victory. So it was that a rubber match became necessary.
But everyone was forced to sit back, relax, and take a very deep, long breath since it would be a week between games two and three. With the second game falling on a Saturday, it was unthinkable to have what was sure to be a sellout winner-take-all match on a weekday, so there was no recourse but to schedule it for the following weekend. True enough, tickets to the last playing date for UAAP season 76 senior’s basketball were practically impossible to score.
As game three rolled on, it looked as if the España crew would finally finish what they couldn’t last year, erecting as much as a 15-point lead in the third quarter. But as the De La Salle faithful have known all season long, the Archers never quit, and always find a way to dig deep and come back. At the end of regulation, both sides were on square footing and the rubber match would require an extra period. Harbinger of how it was between UST and ADMU seven years ago? Perhaps. Because after five minutes of overtime, DLSU became men’s basketball champions of season 76 via a two-point win over the Growling Tigers. Seventy-one to 69 – that was the final tally at the end of overtime. On a strange note, UST’s closing score reflects the very season where they, in turn, upended the Blue Eagles by the same margin, coming away victorious to the tune of 76-74. Stranger still, their winning score then reflects the season that has just concluded, where they found themselves on the short end instead. As they say, the ball is round, and so is the wheel of fortune. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down.
It’s hard to just say that losing would have hurt less for the Archers, simply because it’s not their second consecutive shot at it. That wouldn’t be fair, given that any team that lands in the finals wants nothing more than to hoist that trophy. Yet it’s easy to imagine that for the Tigers, this one must sting rather badly. To have come so close for two straight years; to have been given that oh-so-precious second chance the very next year and still come up short, it’s heartbreak on a whole different level. Especially for the graduating players. And one in particular, probably feels it more than anybody else. Jeric Teng – he of the steady gunslinger’s arm from beyond the arc, who had been a thorn on the side of opposing teams for years, would have loved to have ended his UAAP stint with a ring. But in a cruel twist of fate, not only was that dream going to go unfulfilled but it would be extinguished by a team that included his own kin. Behind all the drama that is every UAAP finals, this one had a special story on the side. For three hard-fought games, two brothers had to face each other in the arena each knew best, set aside blood and love, and duke it out with their respective squads to the bitter end. For Jeric, this was the last hurrah, but for his younger brother Jeron, there were a few more years to try and win that ring as a Green Archer. If memory serves me right, I seem to recall their father, former PBA player Alvin Teng, saying he and his wife each support one son whenever the two have to play each other. That’s the easy part. One can only imagine what it must have been like after this championship. How do you celebrate one child’s triumph at the expense of the other? And how do you console the one who most certainly will shed tears of sorrow?
The men’s basketball tournament of UAAP season 76 is now part of history. The dominant five-peat champions had been eliminated from contention by the same team they had to subdue to get that fifth title a year ago. A new champ has been enthroned. As early as now, some scribes and fans are already posing the possibility of a new dynasty in the making. But I know what the blue and white faithful are thinking. This season’s only outcome makes the quest to wrest back the crown next season all the more compelling.