MANILA, Philippines -- National University (NU) took a longer road than usual to the finals of the UAAP Season 85 women's basketball tournament, but the Lady Bulldogs are determined to write a familiar ending to this year's competition.
NU advanced to the finals outright in the past six seasons after sweeping the elimination round, eventually putting together a winning streak that lasted 108 games.
That historic run was snapped by De La Salle University in their second round encounter last November 23, ensuring that the women's Final 4 will follow a traditional format for the first time since 2013.
The Lady Bulldogs played fourth-seeded Ateneo de Manila University in the semis, claiming an 83-64 on Wednesday to advance to the championship round for the eighth consecutive season.
"I'm happy that we're back. I think it's a different story this year but I think I love that that's the case," said NU star Camille Clarin, who had a team-high 19 points in their win.
"Women's basketball is getting so much better and the fact that we did take a loss means that everyone is rising to the occasion to push women's basketball forward," she noted.
The ongoing women's basketball tournament has seen the rise of new stars, including presumptive Most Valuable Player Eka Soriano of the University of Santo Tomas, top rookie Kacey dela Rosa of Ateneo, and La Salle gunner Lee Sario.
Even with other teams elevating their level of play, Clarin and the Lady Bulldogs still believe that they remain the gold standard for women's basketball in the Philippines -- something they hope to prove in the Season 85 finals.
"I'm just excited for another chance to show the dominance of NU and hopefully come out with that championship," she said.
They have yet to know their opponents in the best-of-3 series, as Soriano and the UST Growling Tigresses forced a do-or-die game against La Salle after a 68-57 win in their own Final 4 game.
For NU head coach Aris Dimaunahan, it does not matter who they will be facing in the finals.
"Ang mindset pa rin is whoever we play, we play our game," the coach stressed. "We'll prepare against whoever makakapasok sa championship."
"Both of these teams are formidable teams, malakas sila. And then, kailangan namin sila paghandaan talaga, whoever gets into our way sa finals. They are both a winning team and kailangan namin ma-match 'yun in the finals," he added.
The coach made it clear that he has no preference regarding their opponent. NU may have lost to La Salle in the elimination round, but they were also pushed to the limit by UST in their first-round encounter, just holding on for a 78-75 triumph.
"Our mindset is, we'll watch the game, we'll wait kung sino makakaharap namin, but it's not in my system to choose," said Dimaunahan. "So whoever comes in there, we'll prepare for them."
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.