MANILA, Philippines -- National University (NU) wants to extend its dominance of UAAP women's basketball to a seventh straight season, but the Lady Bulldogs are bracing for a stiff challenge from a determined De La Salle University squad.
The Lady Bulldogs advanced to the UAAP Season 85 finals after dispatching of Ateneo de Manila University in the Final 4, 83-64. This is the eighth straight finals appearance for the top-seeded NU squad.
La Salle took a longer road to the best-of-3 championship series, having been dragged by No. 3 University of Santo Tomas (UST) to a do-or-die game. But they took care of business on Sunday, holding on for a 74-69 triumph that sent them to the finals for the first time since 2016.
Game 1 is set on Wednesday, 11 a.m., at the Araneta Coliseum.
"I'm happy that we're back," NU star Camille Clarin said of their eighth straight finals appearance -- and her second with the Lady Bulldogs. "I think it's a different story this year, but I think I love that that's the case."
The "different story" came about because for the first time since 2013, the Lady Bulldogs suffered a loss in the UAAP when they were dealt a 61-57 overtime upset by the Lady Archers. That ensured that there would be a traditional Final 4, as opposed to NU advancing to the finals outright.
They still made it to the championship round, where they now have an opportunity to avenge their elimination round defeat to the Lady Archers.
"The fact that we did take a loss means that everyone is rising to the occasion to push women's basketball forward," said Clarin. "I'm just excited for another chance to show the dominance of NU and hopefully come out with that championship."
The Lady Archers, for their part, will enter with great confidence not just from their big win over NU in the eliminations but also their emotional triumph over the Tigresses in the Final 4.
La Salle has not won the UAAP women's crown since Season 76, when they defeated NU in three games. Since then, the Lady Bulldogs have dominated the women's basketball landscape.
"It's an opportunity for us to really see where our program is," said La Salle coach Cholo Villanueva, who maintains that they are still "on a rebuild."
"It's an opportunity to make history. They've been winning the championship for what, seven years now, six years? Now, we have a chance to break that record also," he said. "I think we're capable enough of breaking that as long as we believe in what we're doing, we do it the right way, we play the right way."
Game 2 is on Sunday, December 11, at the Mall of Asia Arena. A third game, if necessary, is on Wednesday, December 14, at the Big Dome in Quezon City.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.