The University of the Philippines defeated the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 72-69, in Game 3 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals to end their 36-year title drought.
In sum, UP endured a long and winding stretch that spanned twelve thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three days. It looked bleak.
But UP never lost hope, and more importantly, belief, that it could finally snap a long 36-year drought marred by heartaches and immeasurable tears.
Last night, history finally unfolded in favor of the Fighting Maroons as not even the jinx of a Friday the 13th could spoil that long-coveted bid with JD Cagulangan draining the game-winning triple for a 72-69 overtime victory over reigning champion Ateneo in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 finals at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Cagulangan’s trey in the last 0.5 seconds capped a stinging 8-0 run in the last minute for UP, which exorcised its decade-long ghosts to rise as the UAAP king for the first time since 1986 before a crowd of 15,132 fans.
The first-year-guard from La Salle served as the unlikely hero for the Diliman-based squad, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. UP's championship also ended the Blue Eagles’ dynasty as the three-time reigning champions.
Finals MVP Maodo Diouf led the way with 17 points, nine rebounds, three steals and a block, while CJ Cansino returned from a bone bruise injury all the way from the elimination round to add 14 markers, including the game-tying triple in regulation.
“Sobrang tuwa ako sa panalo. First, kung paano kami nanalo. Again, we’re down at parang mapupunta na sa Ateneo but we did not give up,” said coach Goldwin Monteverde, who helped deliver the title to UP only in his first year at the collegiate ranks.
“Nagpapasalamat ako sa opportunity. I'm very honored to have coached UP. I really felt ‘yung love ng UP community and I just want to give that love back to them sa support na binigay nila sa amin,” he added.
Like its journey to the finals, UP had to go through adversity anew after being down 59-56 in the last 47 seconds of regulation before Cansino nailed a booming triple to send it to overtime.
The second-seeded UP, who erased a 14-point deficit against La Salle in the do-or-die semis to make it to the finals, once again trailed by as many as 64-69 in the last 1:47 before Cagulangan unleashed a triple, then dished out a dime to Diouf for a wide-open dunk to tie at 69-all with still 39 seconds to go.
To be able to endure that situation at that age is a tremendous sacrifice for me. I’m really proud of what we achieved.
That crucial run only set the stage for a bigger moment for Cagulangan, who finally ended UP’s championship drouth at the expense of the defending UAAP champions Ateneo, who at one point this season rode on a 39-game winning streak including a 13-0 start this season.
UP, of all teams, was also the squad to end that winning spree to spoil Ateneo’s bid for an outright finals berth as a payback for its 90-81 loss in the opener.
The Fighting Maroons then drew first blood in the finals, 81-74, in Game 1 before the Blue Eagles forced a sudden death with a 69-66 win in Game 2.
Then Cagulangan, in front of thousands of bona fide believers clad in maroon, happened—forever etching his name in the annals of Diliman.
“Knowing JD since high school, he really had that heart. Alam niya yung tiwala namin sa kanya and that given moment, wala akong doubt. And he did it,” added Monteverde.
In addition, UP was also honored to realize the dream despite being away from their familes as the UAAP for the first time held a compressed and unique season under a bubble setting amid the pandemic.
“Grabe yung sakripisyo ng team. To be able to endure that situation at that age is a tremendous sacrifice for me. I’m really proud of what we achieved,” concluded Monteverde.
SJ Belangel (27), Ange Kouame (12) and Gian Mamuyac (10) paced the Blue Eagles in a losing cause as they missed out on a four-peat, suffering a rare collapse anew after appearing to have bagged the championship with a comfortable 69-64 lead in the last minute.
UP 72 – Diouf 17, Cansino 14, Cagulangan 13, Rivero 9, Alarcon 8, Tamayo 6, Spencer 3, Lucero 0, Abadiano 0, Fortea 0.
ATENEO 69 – Belangel 27, Kouame 12, Mamuyac 10, Koon 6, Verano 5, Ildefonso 2, Tio 2, Andrade 0, Daves 0, Chiu 0.
Quarterscores: 17-11, 31-27, 46-47, 59-59, 72-69