We’ve had many unforgettable moments in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament throughout its history. These are some of our favorites.
The UAAP men’s basketball tournament rivals the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in terms of hype. After all, there is nothing like good old school spirit that keeps fans coming back to this collegiate tournament every season, even if it has been years since one graduated. The ties run deep. And this is why there are so many classic and unforgettable UAAP moments from its history that continue to come to the forefront of fans’ memories — current players are compared or likened to former ones, unexpected losses still feel as painful now as they did in the moment, and sweet victories still take us back to the glory days.
Here are some of our favorite moments from the UAAP men’s basketball tournament that still live rent-free in our heads.
La Salle’s comeback in 2007
The University of the East (UE) Red Warriors were a force to be reckoned with in 2007. Led by head coach Dindo Pumaren, the strength of their squad was built upon memorable UAAP names including Paul Lee, James Martinez, and Mark Borboran, among other strong team members. With such a solid roster, the Red Warriors went undefeated in the elimination round of the tournament, sending them straight to the finals where they would eventually face the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers.
The Green Archers were also a team to beat, but their 9-5 win-loss record was still quite a reach from UE’s perfect 14-0. But, after facing a one-year suspension in the previous UAAP season due to negligence, DLSU was back with a vengeance.
The hunger was evident in how the Green Archers played on the court, especially with star players JV Casio and Pocholo Villanueva leading the charge. Ultimately, DLSU swept the Red Warriors to win the UAAP Season 70 finale — a huge comeback that many still think about today.
Mac Belo crushes DLSU
While DLSU fans remember the 2007 finals moments with fondness, their campaign in UAAP Season 77 is one that many likely recall with opposite sentiments, not caused by one entire series or one game, but simply (and more painfully), by one single play.
In UAAP Season 77, the Green Archers made it to the Final Four of the men’s basketball tournament as the third seed, and thus, had to face the second-seeded Tamaraws in the semifinals. The DLSU men, who were the defending champions, had to defeat FEU twice to reach the finals yet again, and they were already one game there after a definitive 94-73 victory in their first game.
In their second game, DLSU looked poised to make it back to the finals stage for a shot at defending their UAAP crown. However, it was going to be a close call. In the dying seconds of the game, both teams were tied at 64-64, and the fans in Araneta Coliseum expected the thrilling game to head into overtime. But, with less than three seconds left on the clock, FEU Tamaraw Mac Belo fired a clutch three-pointer — a dagger that stunned the Archers and sent FEU to the finals.
NU’s first title in 60 years
Many schools in the UAAP are familiar with title droughts. Some last longer than others. And as bitter as these droughts can be, they undoubtedly give wins a much sweeter taste. This was the case for the National University (NU) Bulldogs in 2014.
The Bulldogs had been on a long dry spell — a 60-year dry spell, to be exact. And in Season 77, they were ready to put an end to it. By the end of the elimination round of the men’s basketball tournament, NU and UE had to play in a showdown match to determine which among the two would head into the final four. The Bulldogs edged out the Red Warriors by a mere two points, but it was enough to give them the momentum they needed.
As the fourth seed, NU faced the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles in the semifinals of Season 77. Most fans expected the Katipunan-based side to return to the finals, but, as NU did against UE, their squad did just enough to push them past the Season’s top team. The Bulldogs defeated Ateneo in two games, winning by four points in the first match, and then by just two in the second — heartbreak for the Blue Eagles.
The Bulldogs would ultimately go on to win the finals series against the FEU Tamaraws in a do-or-die Game Three, and this time, it would be a decisive 75-59 win. NU won their first title in 60 years in a season where not many expected them to.
Season 80 finals series
Given the nature of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, any season wherein these two teams are at the top of the pack is surely to be one where fans will be unable to keep their eyes off the action, even those who are not from either of these universities. This was the case in the unforgettable UAAP Season 80.
Ateneo was definitely the team to beat in Season 80. In the elimination round, the Eagles went 13 games undefeated, and with just one more win, they would have been guaranteed a spot in the finals. However, their last game before the final four series was against their chief rivals, and the Green Archers did everything in their power to prevent an outright finals berth. Thus, DLSU handed ADMU their only blemish of the season to ensure that the Blue Eagles would need to play in the semifinals first.
Suddenly, things started to look shaky for the once collected-looking team. They lost their first semifinal game to the Tamaraws and had to overcome them in OT minutes in the second game to reach the finals, where they would again face DLSU, who handed them their first loss of the season.
Ateneo won the first game, and it looked as though they were back in stride. But Game 2 of the series saw a more lively Green Archers who were down 49-28 but managed to come crawling back to force a third and final game.
Game 3 was one of those UAAP moments made for the books — a rivalry game that went down to the wire. 22,000-plus attendees packed into Araneta Coliseum to witness the showdown between the two powerhouse teams. Ultimately, the Blue Eagles won the battle by only two points.
While Ateneo was surely fighting all season long for a perfect record to match their championship win, the hiccups at the tail-end of their journey made the victory even more memorable.
Battle of Katipunan
Although DLSU and ADMU remain the biggest rivalry in the UAAP, another rivalry is almost just as fiery — the Katipunan feud between Ateneo and the University of the Philippines. And in recent seasons, these two have been at the top of UAAP’s pecking order.
UAAP Season 84 was Katipunan’s year. The Fighting Maroons and the Blue Eagles made it to the finals in two very different ways. Ateneo easily took down the FEU Tamaraws in the semifinals in one game for their fifth consecutive finals berth and a chance to defend their title. On the other hand, UP’s hopes of a finals appearance hung in the balance after an 83-80 defeat to the DLSU Green Archers. But, they came back in the second game to defeat La Salle by just four points to reach the finals.
UP won the first game of the finals series, defeating Ateneo by seven points in overtime. With the Fighting Maroons’ hot shooting — Ricci Rivero, Carl Tamayo, CJ Cansino to name a few — and energized movements on the court, they looked ready to finally be crowned champions again early on. In the second game of the series, the Maroons rallied in the second half to chase a deficit to the Eagles, but ultimately, they fell short and lost by three points. Ateneo had forced a third game — a delight to the fans.
Game 3 was one to remember. Spirits were running high, the cheers of the fans from both sides were loud, and the players left it all out on the court for two halves and then some. At the end of four quarters, the game was in a deadlock and once again, the two Katipunan teams had to go into overtime.
It remained close all the way until the final buzzer, but by the time it rang, the UAAP had new champions. The UP Fighting Maroons won the battle and took their first title in 36 years. This may be the most memorable win in the last few years, as it felt as though fans from other schools also rallied behind the Maroons, and the celebrations lasted for weeks.
Which UAAP moments live in your head to this day?
Banner images from The Rivalry and Martin San Diego on Flickr, and UAAP Media.