MANILA, Philippines – The National University (NU) women's basketball team continues to make history in the UAAP.
The Lady Bulldogs extended their winning streak to 64 games on Sunday when they outlasted University of the East (UE), 79-68, in Game 2 of the Season 80 women's basketball finals. That victory also gave the Lady Bulldogs a fourth consecutive championship.
It was a remarkable achievement for NU and head coach Patrick Aquino, considering that they lost their best players at the end of Season 79 in Gemma Miranda and three-time Most Valuable Player Afril Bernardino.
"Sabi ko from the start, this is probably a new team without identity," Aquino said after their triumph in Game 2. "Before kasi, andiyan 'yung Afril Bernardino, 'yung Gemma Miranda. This time, there is no superstar."
New superstars emerged for NU as the season went on, however. Former Rookie of the Year Jack Animam earned MVP honors, while guards Trixie Antiquiera and Ria Nabalan took turns in carrying to load on offense for the Lady Bulldogs. Rhena Itesi was a force inside the paint.
In their finals series against the Lady Warriors, Animam and Itesi took charge in the middle while Antiquiera was simply unstoppable from the perimeter. The graduating guard shot a stunning 65% from beyond the arc in two games and averaged 24.5 points in their sweep.
With the four-peat now in the bag, the Lady Bulldogs are now setting their sights on earning an even bigger piece of UAAP history. As it stands, NU is just nine wins away from tying the record of most consecutive victories set by the famed Adamson softball team.
From February 2010 to March 2016, the Lady Falcons won a stunning 73 consecutive games, before the University of Santo Tomas handed them a shock defeat in the UAAP Season 78 tournament.
Aquino does not deny that Adamson's record is always at the back of his mind, especially as his team strings together win after win after win.
"Ayaw ko isipin," he said, "But at the back of my mind, the pressure is already here."
"I hope we can beat that record," Aquino added. "The 73-game winning streak of the Adamson softball team. Hopefully, we can achieve that and siguro more, mas maganda."
"But as of now, let's just enjoy the fourth championship."
The pieces are in place for NU to match and possibly exceed Adamson's achievement. They will lose three players to graduation – Antiquiera, Janet Sison, and Cherry Ann Ano-os. However, already waiting in the wings are talented players who are ready to take their place and prove their worth in the UAAP.
"Ang recruitment namin right now is until 2021 already," Aquino revealed. "So meron nang kapalit. May nakahanda ng kapalit for them."
Aquino will likely field in six rookies in Season 81, but is upbeat that their veterans will fill in the leadership vacuum left by Antiquiera.
"With the help of guys like Jack (Animam), Rhena (Itesi) is going to be there, Ria (Nabalan) is going to be there. (Je-Anne) Camelo is going to be there," said the multi-titled coach.
"We'll be a formidable team again next year. And we'll try to get the fifth championship."
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