MANILA, Philippines -- In search of their seventh consecutive women's basketball championship, National University (NU) will have to take an unfamiliar path to the finals of the UAAP Season 85 tournament.
For the first time since 2013, there will be a traditional Final 4 in the women's basketball competition after the Lady Bulldogs absorbed a shock loss to De La Salle University in the elimination round. They still finished as the top seed in the semifinals with a 13-1 win-loss record.
NU had advanced to the finals outright in the past six seasons after sweeping the elimination round -- a winning streak that lasted for 108 games before the Lady Archers outlasted them in overtime, 61-57, last November 23.
The Lady Bulldogs will be up against fourth-seeded Ateneo de Manila University (7-7), needing just one victory to advance to the finals for the eighth season in a row.
"We will prepare against Ateneo. We will review some games they had and our games with them," said NU head coach Aris Dimaunahan, whose team swept their elimination round encounters against the Blue Eagles.
NU won both games comfortably, taking an 89-52 win in the first round and a 74-60 triumph in the second. However, Dimaunahan warned that they cannot be complacent against an Ateneo team that is making its first Final 4 appearance since Season 78.
"It will be an interesting match-up with their two big guys, with their import, and Kacey Dela Rosa plus their guards (Jhazmin) Joson and (Junize) Calago. Not to leave on the table si (LJ) Miranda," said Dimaunahan.
Game time is at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 30, at the Araneta Coliseum.
In the other Final 4 match-up, it will be second-seed La Salle (12-2) vs. third-seed University of Santo Tomas (UST, 11-3), with the Lady Archers holding a twice-to-beat advantage.
They split their elimination round games: UST won in the first round, 71-57, but La Salle recorded a 67-60 win in the second round that ultimately helped them clinch a twice-to-beat advantage.
The Lady Archers need to win just once in order to return to the finals for the first time since Season 79, where they were beaten by an Afril Bernardino-led NU squad.
"Of course, UST is a tough team," said La Salle assistant coach Jay-R Aquino. "We lost to them in the first round. We beat them in the second round so we have to make adjustments na rin."
"We don't want na umabot pa ng second game," he stressed. "Starting from Game 1, we want to get the game na."
La Salle and UST face off at 11 a.m., also on Wednesday at the Big Dome.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.