Year in, year out, the Green Archers will always be a championshp contender in the UAAP. Credit that to the rock solid basketball program instituted by the country’s winningest collegiate basketball coach in recent history– Franz Pumaren.
This year, the Green Archers were faced with unusual circumstances. There were no superstars in the lineup. They have just come back from a one-year suspension from the league. I counted them as one of the teams I thought would make the final four but I did not think they would win the crown in Season 70.
Everyone knew, right from the beginning, the UE Red Warriors was the team to beat. They have been winning pre-season tilts left and right. They had the league’s most solid lineup, composed of PBL stalwarts Marcy Arellano, Mark Borboran and Kelvin Gregorio (who, by the way, I thought was this year’s Most Improved Amateur Player) They also claimed that elusive 14 game sweep. But now, that sweep was futile, for they lost the two most important games of the season. The ones that cost them the title.
I thought that the 22 year drought of the Warriors would make them hungry enough to topple the championship experience of the Archers. But I was so wrong. UE crumbled under pressure in Game 1 of the Title Series and never bounced back. Maybe the sweep did them more harm than good. Resting for three weeks while waiting for their worthy opponent wasn’t the road that will lead them to the promise land.
The veterans of La Salle delivered. Co-Finals MVP Cholo Villanueva and JV Casio deserved the distinction that had been long-overdue. These two players have played silently and have always delivered the goods for La Salle. Casio, since his first year with the Archers, had gotten used to the habit of making buzzer-beater shots and game winning baskets. Villanueva, on the other hand, played his first injury-free season, at the same time proving that waiting for him to shine was all worth it.
We have noticed that unlike the NCAA, this year’s UAAP was a level playing field. Every team was evenly matched with the rest, with the exception of the last three teams in the standings and UE, who was on top of the standings all throughout the season. It is interesting to note, though, that of the teams that entered the Final Four, UE was the only team who had no championship experience. Not one of the players in its roster experienced a UAAP final before this one.
Looking forward, UE’s title drought goes on for yet another year. For now, they will have to be content with the distinction of being the perennial pre-tournament favorite. I think they still have a complete roster in Season 71. By then, they will have the championship experience. But their Coach Dindo’s contract expires this year, I heard. Will he renew or not? La Salle will return as defending champion, will they do it again? This time, expectedly? My best bet, though, is FEU. Those bunch of young guns will break a lot of hearts next year.
In Season 70, I learned one thing. Shaving heads to project unity amidst diversity really does work as a strategy 🙂
But the most important lesson this season? It’s not a matter of winning all your games, win just the ones that matter.
Congratulations to the Green Archers and to Coach Franz’s basketball program.
N.B. Now Im thanking my lucky stars that Letran beat San Beda during the first round. If the Red Lions cruised through the elimination round and skipped the Final Four battles, what could’ve happened then?