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It’s been a crazy UAAP Season 80 peppered with thrilling game-winners from Paul Desiderio and Sean Manganti; insane stat lines from Alvin Pasaol and Ben Mbala; and vicious dunks from Thirdy Ravena.
And now it has come to this: two teams with a fresh record, only two wins away from winning the championship. On one side is the Ateneo Blue Eagles, a team that barreled into the Final Four with a 13-1 win-loss record and on the other is the De La Salle Green Archers, the team that handed Ateneo its only loss in the elimination round.
If the two nail-biting, down-the-wire La Salle-Ateneo games in the eliminations were any indication, then we are definitely in store for one exciting and unpredictable finals series.
But before we add another chapter to the renewed rivalry, let’s look back at some of the most memorable finals meetings between the two schools.
2001 (LA Steals the Show)
The 2001 UAAP Finals will be remembered as the one where La Salle completed a rare four-peat behind the steady shooting of Renren Ritualo. But also significant was the emergence of one Ateneo rookie, who made a name for himself in Philippine basketball’s biggest stage by putting the Blue Eagles on his young shoulders. Ateneo lost, but LA Tenorio accomplished a feat that has yet to be replicated: dropping 30 points as a rookie in the UAAP Finals.
2002 (Revenge Series)
The 2001 finals matchup between the two squads was so nice, they had to do it twice. Mirroring events the previous year, La Salle and Ateneo again found themselves in a deciding Game 3 in 2002. La Salle was going for fifth straight, but this time Ateneo, led by co-Finals MVPs Larry Fonacier and Wesley Gonzales, stood their ground and relied on elite defense to avenge the 2001 loss.
2008 (Ateneo Dynasty)
It took six years before an inevitable rematch between La Salle and Ateneo took place, and it was well worth the wait for the Blue Eagles. The 2008 season was simply dominated by Ateneo, with Rabeh Al-Hussaini nabbing the MVP trophy, Ryan Buenafe winning Rookie of the Year, and Nonoy Baclao taking the Finals MVP award. The Green Archers were overmatched, and were unceremoniously swept, 2-0, in the Finals despite valiant efforts by JV Casio and Rico Maierhofer.
2016 (Jeron’s Last Stand)
Ateneo was a game way from sweeping the eliminations this year, but was denied by La Salle. In 2016, it was the other way around. A powerhouse La Salle team led by Jeron Teng and Ben Mbala plowed through the competition but was tripped by Ateneo in the final game of the elimination round. In the finals, La Salle got the revenge they wanted as they swept their archrivals to claim their ninth UAAP championship.
How will this year’s finals turn out? Will Ateneo get back at La Salle? Or will La Salle defend the crown? Will Isaac Go hit more big shots? Will Mbala allow it? Answers to some of these when the series begins on Saturday, November 25.