PERHAPS the gods of basketball had their eyes all season long on the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons.
UP defeated three-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila University, 72-69, in overtime in yet another razzle-dazzle Game 3 on Friday to bring home the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball crown before a frenzied crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
And what a way to close a championship series where the Blue Eagles were the favored lot and the Fighting Maroons were the underdogs in a season that saw the return of a big and wild crowd after more than two years of hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
JD Cagulangan nailed a three-pointer that all but settled the issue—UP wins its only second UAAP title after 36 long years.
Of course, it was dramatic and destiny had its share of the season’s complexion.
Trailing by five with less than two minutes to go the extra period, Cagulangan made back-to-back big-time plays.
He first drained a bailout trey before utilizing a pick-and-roll with Malick Diouf for the jam, 69-69, with 39.7 seconds left.
After a Dave Ildefonso basket on the other end, Cagulangan took the ball, milked the clock and pulled a step-back three-pointer for the win.
“Sobrang sarap, wala akong masabi. Champion na kami. Sobrang sarap talaga,” said Cagulangan, a native of Butuan.
UP helped found the league in 1938 and it took the Fighting Maroons to nail its first crown after 47 years.
“I feel very happy right now,” said the soft-spoken UP first-year head coach Goldwyn Monteverde. “I want to thank the UP community. I also want to thank the Lord God for this championship.”
Down by six midway through the fourth quarter, Season MVP Ange Kouame, Raffy Verano and SJ Belangel scored nine straight for Ateneo for a 59-56 lead with 56.7 seconds to go.
CJ Cansino, returning to action for the first time since May 1 when he hurt his knee, buried a top-of-the-key triple off the board to tie the game at 59 with 47.6 ticks left in the fourth.
Chaos followed with multiple loose balls and missed shots from Gerry Abadiano and SJ Belangel that forced overtime.
Finals MVP Diouf finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and three steals. He averaged 12.3 rebounds, 11.7 points, 2.7 steals, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks in the series.
Cansino, meanwhile, returned with 14 points.
UP hero Cagulangan got 13 points five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Belangel led the Blue Eagles with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting while Kouame tallied 12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.