MANILA, Philippines -- The three-year layoff between UAAP women's basketball seasons has only served to make the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs hungrier for more victories and success.
The Lady Bulldogs closed the UAAP Season 82 women's basketball tournament by winning a sixth straight championship and extending their record-breaking run to 96 games. This was in November 2019. Four months later, the rest of the season would be wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women's basketball -- at least the full court version -- was not played when the UAAP finally returned for its 84th season earlier this year. A women's 3x3 event was held in June, but it wasn't until this October that women's 5-on-5 was held again.
Immediately, the Lady Bulldogs showed that a three-year gap, a change in coaches, and the departure of stars had little effect on them. They opened their Season 85 campaign by overpowering the University of the East, 131-47, on Sunday morning. It's the most points scored in UAAP women's basketball since 2003.
"It's our statement to the UAAP that we're back," declared Camille Clarin, now the new ace of the Lady Bulldogs who out-scored the Lady Warriors by herself, 14-13, in the first half.
"New coach, new players," Clarin added. "But we still have the same culture and the same goals."
Pat Aquino, who put together the NU women's basketball dynasty, left the program in May to focus on his duties as head coach of the Gilas Pilipinas women's team. Stepping in for him is Aris Dimaunahan, a longtime member of his staff.
Dimaunahan opened his tenure by guiding the Lady Bulldogs to the women's 3x3 crown in July. With the full court event in full swing, he said his focus is simply to continue what Aquino has started.
"It's big shoes to fill," he admits. "I've learned a lot from being an assistant to him doon sa six championships na nakuha namin. We're just trying to continue what we started."
"Our goal is to improve daily and let the results take care of itself. We're happy that this first game is done and over with and we got the W," he added.
The Lady Bulldogs have not lost since Game 3 of the UAAP Season 76 finals, when they were beaten by De La Salle University. Since then, it's been an unprecedented run of success as NU dismissed challenger after challenger, while producing players for the national team as well.
But Clarin said that they are not worried about their record-breaking streak.
"A lot of us have only been 16-0, a chunk of us are 16-0, others are 32-0 so we don't take it as though we're part of the entire streak," she explained. "It's our responsibility to continue it for those who built it for us."
"Just focusing on one game at a time, that's what keeps us focused," Clarin added. "Even before, the years before, we never focused on the number. You focus on the game at hand and the opponent at hand."
"We've always been lucky enough to have that focus on each game and the results will show."
The Lady Bulldogs will go for a 98th straight win on Wednesday, when they take on Ateneo de Manila University at the UST Quadricentennial Pavilion.
Catch replays of UAAP Season 84 games via the UAAP Varsity channel on iWantTFC, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.