MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo versus La Salle. La Salle versus Ateneo.
The appropriate billing will never be agreed upon, but if there’s one thing people concur on: it is undoubtedly the most storied rivalry in the history of collegiate hoops.
What began as a cutthroat school-to-school competition in the mid-century has evolved into an annual national phenomenon.
Since their entry to the UAAP (Ateneo in 1978 and La Salle in 1986), the archrivals have faced each other 65 times with the Green Archers leading, 36-29. They also lead in terms of UAAP championships, 7-5. The Blue Eagles, however, own the number of the Taft quintet in their Finals match-ups, 3-1.
Come July 24, the animosity, the electricity, and the intensity will boil over once again as Ateneo and La Salle face off for the first time in Season 73.
Since the UAAP is about to close out another decade of unforgettable Ateneo-La Salle games, it is only fitting to list down the top 10 moments from the unparalleled rivalry in the past 10 years.
10. The Big Rabeh-lation
2008 Finals: Game 1
September 21, 2008
Dominating all season long, Rabeh Al-Hussaini proved once again why he was a lock as season MVP as he led Ateneo to a 69-61 win in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals with a monster 31-point performance. La Salle had no answer for Al-Hussaini as he scored in a myriad of inside moves and close jumpers. His huge effort couldn’t come at a better time since the Blue Eagles’ Chris Tiu struggled for only two points. Al-Hussaini scored 20 of Ateneo’s 33 points in the second half as he delivered a classic performance in front of over 22,000 fans that filled the Big Dome.
9. Five Times the Charm
2007 UAAP Season
Fans of both schools were treated to a dream season in 2007 as the bitter rivals faced each other a record-tying 5 times. Ateneo prevailed in the head-to-head, 3-2, winning the two elimination games and one playoff game. La Salle, however, nailed the two most important ones: the tie-breaker for the twice-to-beat incentive and the deciding game in the semifinals, which earned them a date with unbeaten University of the East (UE) in the Finals. Supporters were treated to five cardiac ballgames as the squads were only separated by an average margin of 2.4 points.
8. Nobody But Tiu
September 27, 2007
After being held to just a single point in the first half of their playoff match in 2007, Chris Tiu came alive when it mattered the most. He scored five straight points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning lay-up with 7.3 seconds left to give Ateneo the 65-64 win and force a deciding match for the right to face UE in the Finals. La Salle actually controlled most of the game, holding two six-point leads in the final quarter before Tiu’s heroics. The Green Archers had the chance to steal the game but Bader Malabes missed his three-point shot as time expired.
7. One Big Fight (Literally)
2003 Final Four
September 5, 2003
With 1:31 remaining in the fourth quarter of their Final Four match in 2003 and Ateneo leading, 65-63, L.A. Tenorio and Gerwin Gaco figured in a fight that erupted into a bench-clearing fiasco. Tenorio punched Gaco in the ribcage during a dead ball situation with the burly Green Archer quickly retaliating with a chest nudge. La Salle eventually won the game in overtime, 76-72, and forced a rubber-match. Tenorio, Badjie Del Rosario, and Ryan Araña, who all had a physical role in the fight, were suspended in the do-or-die game, which was won by the Men in Blue, 74-68.
6. Finger-Gate Scandal
2008 Finals: Game 2
September 25, 2008
Still an unsettled issue today, Rico Maierhofer allegedly flashed the dirty finger in the closing minutes of the third quarter of Game 2 of the 2008 Finals with Ateneo ahead, 49-43. Maierhofer claimed it was his index finger and pleaded with the referees but to no avail. He was ejected for his second technical foul (he was whistled for taunting earlier) and dealt a major blow to La Salle’s hopes of forcing a win-or-go-home Game 3. Without the high-leaping Maierhofer, the Blue Eagles coasted to a 62-51 win and took home their second UAAP diadem in six years.
5. Ren-Ren to the Rescue
2001 Finals: Game 1
September 27, 2001
It’s almost impossible to make this list without Ren-Ren Riutalo. One of the most feared clutch performers in UAAP history, Ritualo came through in crunch-time again in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. After Ateneo cut the lead to two with under a minute left via back-to-back three-point plays from Rich Alvarez and Tenorio, Ritualo, who struggled all game long, sank a cold-blooded left corner jumper with 40.8 seconds for a 71-67 lead. That clipped the wings of the Blue Eagles, who missed their shots in the ensuing possessions, and La Salle escaped with a 74-68 win.
4. Good Sharma
2001 Finals: Game 3
October 16, 2001
In 2001, Enrico Villanueva was the best big man of the UAAP. But in the sudden-death Game 3 of the Finals, Carlo Sharma showed that he can play with the best of them. Then an unheralded rookie, Sharma scored 11 of his career-high 22 points in the fourth quarter to lift La Salle to a 93-88 win and complete a rare four-peat. Sharma played terrific defense on Villanueva as well as he held him to only five points, zero in the final period. He also stepped up at the most opportune time with veterans Manny Ramos and Michael Gavino sitting out the game due to health issues.
3. Cool Cat Gets Cold Feet
2002 Finals: Game 3
October 5, 2002
No matter how good Mike Cortez was during his UAAP days, people will always remember his choke job in Game 3 of the 2002 Finals. “The Cool Cat” surprisingly went cold from the field as he shot an atrocious 2 of 13. Ateneo handily won the game, 77-70, and the series to end their 14-year title drought. The win also denied the Green Archers their fifth straight championship. Cortez’s no-show in the do-or-die affair led La Salle students and alumni to speculate that he threw the game. Cortez denied the rumors and applied for the PBA Draft after his UAAP career.
2. It Was All Yellow
2009 First Round
August 9, 2009
In a brilliant display of sportsmanship, supporters of both teams decided to wear yellow shirts instead of their usual school colors to show respect for Corazon Aquino, who passed away just days before the game. What resulted was a sea of yellow fans cloaking the Araneta Coliseum one Sunday afternoon. It was a memorable event as the bitter foes chose to set aside their egos to honor the late President. Although the game only had one winner (Ateneo beat La Salle, 76-72 in overtime), what was important was that the schools showed they can co-exist for unity’s sake.
1. Larry’s Block Party
2002 Finals: Game 1
September 25, 2002
Easily the most recognizable Ateneo-La Salle moment, Larry Fonacier twice blocked Mark Cardona’s game-tying attempts in the dying seconds to preserve the Game 1 win for Ateneo, 72-70. After Villanueva sank two free throws to give the Blue Eagles the lead with 9.2 ticks remaining, La Salle, with no timeouts left, quickly inbounded the ball to Cardona, who raced to the other end of the court. Fonacier was there to defend him and perfectly anticipate his patented semi-hooks. Fonacier then raised his hands as time expired with Cardona slumped on the floor.
No other college rivalry comes close to Ateneo-La Salle or La Salle-Ateneo. The pride, the stakes, and the competition are always sights to behold for a passionate basketball fan. The UAAP will close its curtains on another decade of the esteemed rivalry. Players will always come and go, but Ateneo and La Salle are here to stay as they create more memorable moments in the years to come.