The UAAP Season 80 Review: A Year Filled with Surprises and Drama

Nevertheless, it has been a season for the books

La Salle vs Ateneo
This season’s Men’s Basketball Tournament is more than just about the Ateneo-La Salle Rivalry.
Over the past seasons, the Men’s Basketball tournament of the UAAP has been one of the country’s most exciting basketball leagues and mind you, folks. The UAAP is more than just about the fierce rivalry between the Ateneo de Manila Bule Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers. And Season 80 is no different at all.

For those who were probably stuck in their studies all while the basketball wars were happening, below are just some of the stories which this pundit on wheels thinks has made 2017 memorable for the UAAP fans:

Surprise!

One of the teams that made the most impact this year was the UP Fighting Maroons. And nobody expected them to win. Especially not against a powerhouse team like the Green Archers whom they beat surprisingly by a big margin. They did by shutting down the rest of the Archers as Ben Mbala was almost impossible to stop. And it worked. Throughout the entire season, Paul Desiderio hit numerous game-winning treys. Unfortunately, UP came short of making it to the Final 4 but given the fact they were able to beat La Salle, it’s only a matter of time until UP becomes a Final 4-bound team.

Ateneo’s Redemption Season

After losing in the Finals last season against Jeron Teng and company, the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles wasted no time as they began the season by winning the first 13 games only to lose on the 14th against their archrivals. Then, their backs were forced onto the wall as the Far Eastern University Tamaraws forced a sudden-death match against the number one team. Fortunately, Isaac Go redeemed himself as he nailed two clutch baskets- one that forced overtime and the other one that sealed the win for the Eagles.
In the Finals against La Salle, Isaac Go was the hero of the series as he completed a 3-point play during the dying seconds of Game 1, allowing Ateneo to take Game 1. And when La Salle was threatening for the last time in a classic Game 3, Isaac Go received a pass from Thirdy Ravena and calmly drained a three-pointer to ice things up. Victory. Redemption. George Isaac Go.

La Salle’s Drama

Losing in the Finals against the Blue Eagles was definitely a bitter pill to swallow for the Archers. After all, they were the only ones who beat the Eagles during the elimination rounds.  And they came a defensive stop away from winning a second consecutive championship. They fell short. Tears were shred. Congratulatory and consoling hugs were exchanged. In the end, La Salle lost it all. And the drama was just getting started back then.
Coach Aldin Ayo said after the Finals series that 2-time MVP Ben Mbala still has one season of eligibility with the Green Archers. Then, Mbala said he has enough of the issues surrounding his eligibility owing to the reinstatement of the “seven years out of high school” rule by the UAAP. Mbala has taken his talents to Mexico after saying that he won’t waste a year doing nothing. In a snap, things went gloomier for La Salle.
Throughout the latter part of the season, Aldin Ayo’s name has been connected to the UST coaching job. Many speculated that Ayo’s former connections from the Letran Knights were pushing for him to transfer from Taft to Espana. At first, Ayo denied the rumors, saying that his commitment was with La Salle. WAS. After a few weeks, Aldin Ayo parted ways with the Green Archers- taking with him his coaching staff. Is Aldin Ayo really headed to Espana? We’ll all have to wait. 

Conclusion

Now that the season is over in the Men’s division, there are a few questions that need answers come Season 81. Will Ateneo repeat? Possibly. Who will take over from Ayo in La Salle? Nobody knows. For now. Will the Fighting Maroons ever make it back to the Final 4? That’s up for a debate. Nevertheless, it has been a pleasant season in general- except if you’re a fan of the UST Growling Tigers. 

Title Defense Looks Promising for the Ateneo Blue Eagles

Coach Tab Baldwin says the Blue Eagles will have lots of talent next season

The dagger shot was nailed. The final buzzer has made its final sound and was followed by a rain of confetti, flooding the court. These were the scenarios as the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles began to celebrate their championship victory against the De La Salle Green Archers after a classic Game 3 win which was not sealed until the final minute of the game. A classic indeed.
It has been a week already since that exciting Sunday night and to celebrate that championship along with other achievements that are made by the other Ateneo teams in other UAAP sports, the entire Ateneo community joined together and held a bonfire at their Quezon City campus. Present there were members of the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball champions headed by Coach Tab Baldwin and Team Captain Vince Tolentino who played his final year for the Blue and White alongside Chubueze Ikeh.
Now that the celebration was done, let’s go straight to the next thing the Blue Eagles will need to focus on after winning their first championship since Norman Black led the team to 5 straight championships: defend the title. Despite the fact that the Blue Eagles will no longer have Tolentino and Ikeh around come Season 81, the core of the championship-winning team will remain intact. In fact, they will even get more powerful- at least on paper when Season 81 opens next year.
That if you will believe Coach Tab Baldwin.
Ateneo has tons of possible players who can suit up for next season. 
Aside from former Blue Eagle, Adrian Wong who is set to hopefully return after missing a season due to injury, the Eagles will have a new foreign student-player in Angelo Kouame. 
Isaac Go, the hero of Season 80, will be expected to play a bigger role next year and so will Raffy Verano. 
Also, former San Beda Red Lion, William Navarro and Fil-Kiwi player, Patrick Maadenberg are included in the choices. 
And lastly, three Blue Eaglets are set to graduate next year namely, Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel and Jason Credo. So, this is a headache Tab Baldwin will want to have: choosing among the players whom he believes will lead the Eagles to another championship.

Conclusion

Season 81 will not start until September of next year. Until then, Isaac Go and the rest of the Blue Eagles can have the luxury of enjoying this championship. After all, it has been five years since the last time they’ve won one, right? But at the same time, Tab Badlwin will be working behind the limelight as he prepares the Eagles for its title because of the fact that La Salle will still have 2-time MVP, Ben Mbala next season- for one final season. 

Championship shifts to Katipunan Anew as Ateneo outlasted La Salle in Game 3 of UAAP Finals

After missing a hook shot in the eliminations that may have given an outright finals berth, Isaac Go may have drained the biggest 3-point shot of his young collegiate career.
With 2 seconds remaining in their shot clock, Go received a pass from Thirdy Ravena and with no choice but to put up a shot, Go put up a looper and swishes the net as the buzzer sounds.
It was a grit and grind game as usual as La Salle managed to take the lead midway the 3rd quarter but Ateneo made a huge run in the 4th quarter to give them an 8 point lead. But again, La Salle fought back and cut the lead into 2 with Andrei Caracut 3-pointer. Then the Isaac Go Title-Clinching shot happened.

The supporter of both teams made the game more exciting as 22,012 fans made it to the venue to watch their favorite teams.
Thirdy Ravena was crowned Finals MVP as he finished the game with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists while Matt Nieto. Chiz Ikeh and Antos Asistio combined for 37 points to help Ravena.
Meanwhile, Season MVP Ben Mbala managed to collect 19 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks while Aljun Melecio, Ricci Rivero, Andre Caracut and Leonard Santillan managed to contribute, 16, 14, 13 and 11 points respectively.
With this championship, Ateneo Blue Eagles will get an iPhone X and Trip to Hongkong bonus from “MVP” Manny V. Pangilinan.

UAAP Season 80 Championship: A Big Redemption for the Blue Eagles

Big Finals victory against La Salle completes a turnaround season for Ateneo

After winning last year’s UAAP championship, the De La Salle Green Archers came into the UAAP Season 80 as the favorites to repeat as champions as they had Ben Mbala, the now two-time MVP, on board. 
Although they were defeated by the UP Fighting Maroons and the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles back in the first round, they literally and figuratively stormed into the Final 4 by ending Ateneo’s 13-game winning streak. Then, the defending champions disposed the Adamson Falcons in their lone Final 4 game to enter the Finals for the second straight season.
On the other hand, aside from seeing their 13-game winning streak snapped by the Archers, the Ateneo Blue Eagles had to sweat it out against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws who forced a do-or-die game that even went into an extra period. If not to Isaac Go’s heroics, that 13-1 record that Ateneo established would have been for naught. 
Coming into the best-of-3 championship series, everyone was expecting it to be a bloody affair owing to the fact that it was between Ateneo and La Salle. And it turned out to be a bloody war indeed as blood from both sides was spilled onto the court, numerous times. 
Game 1 went to the guys in blue after a heroic outing from none other than Isaac Go. Game 2, on the other hand, went to the men in green as La Salle erased a 21-point deficit that forced a Game 3. 

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The third game of the series was a beauty to behold as it was filled with non-stop, amazing basketball action from start to finish. In the end,  the Blue Eagles successfully avoided another late-game meltdown after beating the Archers, 88-86- to bring back the crown to Katipunan. 

Redemption

If anything, this championship that Ateneo won showed their determination to redeem their themselves all season long after losing last year’s championship series due to the inexperience of the team, most especially Thirdy Ravena who made costly mistakes in that series. 
Ravena, the Finals MVP this season, has improved tremendously as he contributed to the success of the team not just by scoring on monstrous dunks but, by being a facilitator, a great rebounder and, a defender as well. 
Isaac Go also redeemed himself after missing the potential game-winner against La Salle back in the second round. He rescued the Eagles thrice this season, once against FEU and twice in the Finals- the last one being the booming trey that statistically iced up the Eagles’ victory in Game 3. And, Isaac Go’s “clutchness” even made Norman Black- the man behind Ateneo’s 5-peat run, dance. 
Chibueze Ikeh failed to defend Ben Mbala down low in Game 3 but that didn’t stop him playing his best game of the season after scoring 12 points- including that big dunk late in the 4th quarter, while also grabbing 13 rebounds- 8 from the offensive end. He ended his UAAP career with a championship to savor. What a way to redeem from the previous two seasons that were filled with turmoil, right?

Conclusion

Ateneo will lose three players to graduation next season. However, this would mean that Isaac Go will play a bigger role in the Eagles’ title defense. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves folks. Let Ateneo savor this victory for a little while. After all, it has been 5 years since that last title, right?

By the Numbers: Ateneo Remains Undefeated After Frustrating UP

UP fought until the Blue Eagles took off for good late in the 4th

Ateneo Blue Eagles vs La Salle Green Archers
Ateneo can end the elimination rounds with a 14-0 record with another win against La Salle.

Sure, the league-leading Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles were able to keep their unblemished state after beating the UP Fighting Maroons, 96-82- in a game that wasn’t decided until the final quarter the Blue Eagles, like they did in their previous games, allowed their opponents to stay within striking distance and only take control of the game in the 4th quarter. 
Sure, the Blue Eagles now have the chance to sweep the elimination rounds and book their ticket to the Finals that will equip them with a thrice-to-beat advantage. 
However, don’t be fooled by the final score as the game was competitive as UP led as much as 12 points before Ateneo came back charging.
How competitive the round 2 of the “Battle of Katipunan” was? 
Below are the numbers:

3-Point Shooting: What Kept UP in the Game. And Not.

Keep in mind that it was actually the UP Fighting Maroons who first beat the defending champions back in their first round. That game saw the Fighting Maroons took 35 shots from beyond the arc and made 16 of them. Against the same team in their second-round encounter, Bo Perasol’s boys only took 32 shots. The result: the Maroons lost. 
Against the Blue Eagles, UP was relatively hot from the three-point line in the first half as they made 50% of their 16 attempts from deep but come the second half, the Fighting Maroons faltered from outside as they only made 3 of 15 from that area, a forgettable 20% shooting. 
Sure, Ateneo was even worse off the three-point line as they only made 7 out of their 24 attempts from that distance but if you missed 18 threes in the second half alone, you cannot expect to win.

Ateneo’s Bench Stepped Up

Sure, Thirdy Ravena only made 2 of his 11 attempts and only scored 10 points but he didn’t have to score more as Isaac Go and Gian Mayumac each scored 13 points, leading Tab Baldwin’s bench troopers. In fact, these two Blue Eagles off the bench almost outscored the entire bench of UP who only managed 29 points, a far cry to the entire bench of Ateneo who combined for 49 of the Eagles’ 96 points. 

Ateneo Shut Down Desiderio

Paul Desiderio had 16 points against Ateneo yesterday but only had 3 points after halftime. This can be associated with the amazing job of Third Ravena and Matt Nieto who took turns in defending and frustrating UP’s main guy on offense. Overall, the Eagles’ defensive efforts were not wasted as they were rewarded with their 13th win in 13 games- all thanks to limiting Desiderio to 33% shooting from the field, including 30% from 3. 

Conclusion

The Blue Eagles will have the opportunity to sweep the elimination rounds assuming they beat La Salle anew. But knowing that this is another Ateneo-La Salle slugfest, anything can happen especially when we look at how their first-round encounter ended, Ateneo can only hope that Thirdy Ravena will regain his groove come Sunday because the Eagles will need everyone on board especially when defending Big Ben Mbala. 
Mind you, folks, it was Ateneo who snapped La Salle’s 13-game winning streak last season. Now? La Salle has the firepower to return the favor.