MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The long wait is over: For the first time in 36 years, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons are the kings of UAAP basketball.
The Fighting Maroons ended Ateneo de Manila University's dynasty on Friday, coming away with a 72-69 overtime victory in the do-or-die Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals in front of a raucous crowd of more than 15,000 fans at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
UP won the best-of-3 series 2-1, claiming its first UAAP title since 1986, when the likes of Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc were the team's stars.
This time around, they embraced the emergence of new heroes, from rookie big man Carl Tamayo to Filipino-American forward Zavier Lucero and steady point guard Joel Cagulangan, to Senegalese center Malick Diouf and veteran guards Ricci Rivero and James Spencer.
Cagulangan was the biggest hero for the Fighting Maroons on Friday, as he nailed the step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave UP its long-awaited championship. The point guard, a transferee from De La Salle University, was impeccable in overtime where he orchestrated the Fighting Maroons' rally from five points down.
Cagulangan scored eight points in overtime, making all three of his field goals, none bigger than the 3-pointer that finished the game in thrilling fashion. He also had two rebounds and an assist.
He finished with 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists, while Malick Diouf had 17 points and nine rebounds en route to winning Finals Most Valuable Player. CJ Cansino came off the bench to score 14 points in just 12 minutes of playing time.
It was a remarkable response from the Fighting Maroons, who saw their chance to wrap up the series fall apart on Wednesday with a 69-66 loss to the Blue Eagles. They had erased a 15-point deficit in Game 2, but some poor decision-making and costly turnovers in the endgame kept them from completing the comeback.
Given another opportunity to end Ateneo's three-season reign as UAAP champions, the Fighting Maroons didn't falter.
"Playing against Ateneo, a very disciplined team, a great team, we really prepared for them. We talked to each other, and first we really believed that we could overcome this challenge against Ateneo," said UP coach Goldwin Monteverde, who won a UAAP title in his first season as a coach at the seniors division.
"I'm really also blessed with a wonderful coaching staff, and also, again with these young men who never gave up every game. Always pushing each other to overcome whatever we're going through. I'm just so blessed with the team," he added.
NIP AND TUCK BATTLE
UP led by as many as nine points, 20-12, on a Cansino triple with nine minutes to go in the second quarter. The veteran had missed the first two games of the series with an injury, but came back to give the Fighting Maroons a massive lift in the decider.
Displaying the heart of a champion, Ateneo rallied back to make a game out of it in the second half. The Blue Eagles struggled anew with UP's defense in the first two quarters, but found themselves down by just four points at the break, 31-27.
Ateneo opened the third quarter with a five-point run, with SJ Belangel drilling a triple to give the Blue Eagles a 32-31 lead. It was nip-and-tuck from there, with the ball game featuring eight deadlocks and eleven lead changes.
UP appeared headed for a victory in regulation after surging ahead, 56-50, midway through the fourth quarter off a Harold Alarcon jumper. But Ateneo worked its way back, with Belangel orchestrating a 9-0 run that put them ahead, 59-56, with just 56.7 seconds to play.
It was Cansino who saved the Fighting Maroons in regulation, drilling a booming 3-pointer off the glass with 48.3 seconds left to knot the count. Neither team could score the rest of the regulation, with Belangel missing a layup and Ange Kouame failing on the follow-up, sending the game to overtime.
In the extension, it was Ateneo that took charge early as Belangel conspired with Gian Mamuyac to give Ateneo a 69-64 lead with just 1:47 to play.
That was when Cagulangan took charge. The young point guard beat the buzzer with an off-balance 3-pointer, then fed Diouf for the slam dunk that knotted the count with just 39.7 seconds left, 69-69.
After the Blue Eagles failed to execute on the other end, the Fighting Maroons gave the ball to Cagulangan and he delivered. He lost Mamuyac thanks to a massive screen by Diouf, and though the Ateneo senior recovered, Cagulangan had already put up the three-pointer that would end more than three decades of heartbreak for UP.
"Ang sarap mag-champion!" a giddy Cagulangan yelled after the game. "Lahat ng teammate ko laging sinasabi, walang bibitaw. Kahit anong mangyari, walang bibitaw. Manalo, matalo, walang bibitaw."
END OF A DYNASTY
The Fighting Maroons ended Ateneo's stranglehold on the UAAP championship, as the Blue Eagles had won the crown from Season 80 to 82. In Season 81, they denied a fairy tale ending to an upstart UP team by sweeping them in the finals.
But these crop of Maroons was far more prepared, and they flustered an Ateneo squad that is known for its execution on offense. The Blue Eagles shot 41.1% in the game but committed 25 turnovers, which UP translated to 22 points.
The Maroons shot 32.5% from the field, and turned their 14 offensive rebounds into 17 second chance points.
Squandered in the loss was a superb 27-point outing from Ateneo's Belangel, who kept the Blue Eagles afloat when UP looked headed for victory in regulation. Kouame, the Season 84 MVP, had 12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the contest.
Mamuyac finished with 10 points, six of which came in overtime. Dave Ildefonso, after a bounce-back performance in Game 2, was limited to three field goals and scored just two points.
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.
Quarters: 17-11, 31-27, 46-47, 59-59, 72-69.