As De La Salle University finally put an end to National University’s almost decade-long UAAP women’s basketball winning streak that stretched 108 games and 3,334 days, fans just had to ask: how did the Lady Archers get it done?
For La Salle women’s head coach Cholo Villanueva, the grueling 61-57 overtime win on Wednesday over the six-time defending champions came down to “mental preparation”.
“It’s just believing that we can win the game, more of trusting each other, doing things together,” the squad’s long-time mentor told ABS-CBN Sports.
“We just wanted to have that mentality that we can win this game. To beat a perfect team, we need to have a perfect game. It’s fortunate for us. We played almost a perfect game to beat the streak.”
Such mindset translated statistically for the Lady Archers, which pulled out all the stops in shutting down the Lady Bulldog’s well-oiled offensive attack throughout their game held at the UST Quadricentennial Pavilion.
La Salle forced NU to commit 16 turnovers and convert only 14 assists; they also limited the Lady Bulldogs to only 30 percent field goal shooting – including 6 of 31 from 3-point land.
The F. Jhocson side’s 49 points after regulation was also the team’s lowest throughout the entire Season 85 elimination round.
“I am very proud of my girls on how they were very composed and how they competed. They didn’t give an inch in the four quarters,” Villanueva said.
“We just thought to win every quarter, every possession, and eventually, we’ll win the game.”
Prior to the loss, NU had a couple of close calls similar to the game it dropped. It went toe-to-toe against the Tigresses in the first round, edging them out in the end, 78-75. Against Ateneo last November 2, the Lady Bulldogs also had a slow start.
La Salle playing the possession-by-possession game proved to be an effective kryptonite that finally broke NU's puzzle.
“(The) difference from today and our first-round game … I think we were able to control the pace more. They’re a very high-scoring team. For us, we just wanted to control the pace through our defense,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva’s troops took a 32-25 halftime lead into their dugout. Eventually, they were also able to limit their own turnovers to just 11, negating coach Aris Dimaunahan’s running game.
“Good thing, my girls were able to execute on every possession,” Villanueva added. “We just had the mentality of believing we can win 40 minutes against this team; we didn’t think about their streak, we just broke the game down, and eventually, we won five quarters.”
The historic victory hiked La Salle’s record to 11-2, trailing NU’s 12-1 slate by just one game.
That current standing puts the Taft group in a good position to claim the second twice-to-beat advantage over University of Santo Tomas (10-3), with one more match left in the elimination round.
Interestingly, it was also La Salle who beat NU last in 2013 before the latter would go on to piece together one of the most incredible all-time winning runs in hoops history -- falling just three short of equaling US NCAA’s University of Connecticut’s 111.
But more than being streakbusters which Villanueva downplayed, what can be underscored further from La Salle’s monumental victory was how it boosted the morale of his players entering the knockout stages.
“It gives us a lot of confidence. It’s a big win for us. We wanted to achieve several goals this UAAP tournament,” he said.
“Coming into the postseason, it’s going to be a confidence booster but the job is not yet done.”
NU’s loss meant the tournament’s shift back to a traditional Final Four format for the first time since 2014. And while Villanueva acknowledges that the defending titlists are “still the barometer”, he admittedly noted that the race for this season’s crown has just become an interesting and quite open race.
“(It’s the) same thing (happening) in the men’s (tournament). Everybody is going to be catching up to Ateneo (when they won a three-peat),” he said.
“The women’s programs, we are going to be catching up to the No. 1 team and hopefully get over the hump … I think we are just moving in the right direction. The talent is slowly being balanced within schools, and that’s good for women’s basketball that everybody has a shot now.”