Let's start with the NCAA top headlines.
5 - The Overrated and the Underrated Within the Walls
There's a tie for fifth and sixth in my biggest NCAA headlines, but since Letran and Mapua are neighboring schools along the Intramuros area, why not make a 2-in-1 recap? Prior to the season, the Letran Knights were tagged as underdogs, in fact long shots, while the Mapua Cardinals were tagged as playoff contenders with the arrival of big man Yousef Taha and explosive scorer Josan Nimes. What happened after? Letran went on a hot streak, going 7-2 in the first round, while the Cards struggled early, entering the second round with a 3-6 slate. Mapua began to sizzle in Round 2, behind the heroics of Nimes, the eventual Rookie of the Year, Taha, and team captain Allan Mangahas, but Letran stayed in their top form thanks to combo guard Kevin Alas, dominant banger Jam Cortes, rookie point Mark Cruz, and Most Improved Player awardee Raymund Almazan. The Knights smoothly entered the semis, while the Cardinals fell short of making the Final Four. Did the analysts overrate the Cards? Did they think the Knights are a bust? We don't know, but we can expect from these teams more next year.
4 - Here Come the Pirates
The NCAA welcomed a new team in the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates. Many expected the Pirates would end up as the whipping boys this year, but Lyceum shocked them instead. The Pirates stunned the CSB Blazers and the Perpetual Help Altas in Lyceum's maiden two voyages to NCAA supremacy, instantly becoming the talk of the town. While they would lose the next two, LPU made headlines anew by beating Mapua and Arellano next. The Pirates would hit the ship refueling area with a 4-5 card, but they would set sail again with a stunning win over JRU to get even with the Heavy Bombers, who defeated them just a week earlier. But starting with a blowout loss to Mapua, Lyceum began to crumble, especially after losing veteran Allan Santos to personal reasons. The Pirates would be eliminated after losing to San Sebastian, but they would repeat over the Blazers to end their season on a high note and with a stern warning to the other NCAA teams, "We, the Pirates, are for real!"
3 - The Carlo Lastimosa Case
Another team who were in playoff contention this year were the Blazers, but College of Saint Benilde had other issues to tackle with. Early in the second round, news broke out that swingman Mark Romero, a transferee from FEU, left the team to undisclosed reasons. With the news reported during the registration period for the 2nd trimester of CSB (just like its brother school just across Taft Avenue), it was presumed that Romero's problems had something to do with his enrollment. But Carlo Lastimosa's case was even a bigger issue. Becoming an instant star, the news about Lastimosa, who also had registration concerns and had to leave not just the Blazers but also CSB, became a subject of rumors and headlines on various sports news. There were rumors that spread out that Lastimosa would be transferring to San Beda, Ateneo, his uncle's, Jojo Lastimosa's alma mater, or at La Salle's main campus just across the street. Carlo's enrollment matter were already settled and suited up again for the Blazers, but it was a bit too late as the Blazers, who entered the second round tied with Lyceum at number 4 at 4-5, were shown the door with only 2 wins in the last 9.
2 - Championshp Number 19!
In what many thought would be a championship year for San Sebastian under rookie coach Michael "Topex" Robinson, the San Beda Red Lions stayed consistent throughout the season and stole the limelight from the Golden Stags by sweeping the latter in the NCAA Finals. Thanks to veterans Garvo Lanete, Dave Marcelo, the Semerads, Dave and Anthony, and the Pascuals, Jake and Kyle, San Beda remained tough and took advantage of a late Baste downfall to win their 19th NCAA title, tying Letran for the most seniors' basketball championships. Aside from that, they proved that they can win a championship without an import, in this case Sudan Daniel, who didn't play due to a torn ACL. However, the celebration, which I know is still continuing till today, might be cut short as rumors were buzzing around that the Semerad twins, both Anthony and Dave Semerad, are packing their gears in Mendiola and are bound for Katipunan Avenue, transferring to Ateneo. No confirmations are being made as of press time.
1 - The Miracle Run
The championship run of San Beda barely missed on overshadowing JRU's big-time run to the Final 4. Entering the 2nd round with a not-pleasing-to-the-eye 3-6 slate, the Heavy Bombers lost their next three assignments, kicking off the next round on a sour note and with analysts thinking JRU's done for the year. That time, I was already thinking about a Mapua, CSB, and Lyceum race for the wildcard. Then the unthinkable happened. Nate Matute, who struggled in the first round, waxed hot late in the season, and with the help of veterans John Lopez, Jeckster Apinan, and Alex Almario, the Heavy Bombers won their last six games, including a shock upset over San Beda and the playoff berth-clinching demolition of Mapua, to enter the semis, besting the Blazers, the Pirates, and of course the Cards. Although the Lions got back at them, they earned much respect for the winning streak. Expect JRU to bomb next year.
Now off to the UAAP top headlines
5 - Where 33-Point Turnaround Happens
Speaking of unthinkables, add this to the collection. The Adamson Soaring Falcons were ahead by 17 halfway through the second quarter of their second round meeting with UST. The Growling Tigers, looking to enter the Final 4, stepped on the gas from there. Thanks to the Jerics, Jeric Teng and Jeric Fortuna, with rookies Kevin Ferrer and Karim Abdul and athletic veteran Chris Camus, the Tigers turned the tides, overcame the deficit, and even beating the Falcons by 16. That's a 33-point turnaround! Not just that this was the biggest comeback win this year, the UST win over Adamson might come down as the biggest turnaround the UAAP has ever seen.
4 - Make Way for the Freshmen
Ferrer and Abdul are just two of a number of explosive rookies we saw this year. While the NCAA has the likes of Josan Nimes, Yousef Taha, Jonathan Grey, and Baser Amer, the UAAP has Kevin, Karim, Kiefer Ravena, Gelo Alolino, and Bobby Parks. Ravena, from Ateneo, won the Rookie of the Year award, starting a new legacy left off by Kiefer's dad, former PBA and MBA superstar Bong Ravena. Parks, on the other hand, won the MVP. Parks, a son of former PBA import Bobby Sr., could have been the ROY as well, if not for that rule disqualifying rookies who did not come straight from high school to win the freshman plum. Nevertheless, both Parks, Ravena, and the rest of the aforementioned rookies will return next year to continue building their already legendary legacy here. Talk about the deepest rookie batch ever in college basketball.
3 - No Sweep...
Entering the 2nd meeting of the Adamson Soaring Falcons and the Ateneo Blue Eagles, people were already talking about the stepladder format. The UST counter-blowout against Adamson was still abuzz. They were also talking about the UP Pep Squad coloring their hairs blonde and what stuff they will show in the cheerdance competition, turned out to be a way to do the grand slam (Oops! Sorry, Talk 'n Text fans). The Falcons, who were sealing the twice-to-beat edge then, made no hesitation to do the act immediately. AdU broke free from a close 1st half and blew out ADMU, 62-46, to stop the Blue Eagles from sweeping the season. Apart from that, the Falcons won for the first time in 30 meetings in the UAAP, dating back to the 1997 season. For Adamson, they cherished the moment as if they already won the title. Though they didn't do so in the UAAP, they are continuing the winning run on the PBA D-League.
2 - ...No Problem
The loss to Adamson did not hinder Ateneo from cementing their legacy in the UAAP. Ateneo would win three straight, a nail-biter against UST in the semis, and sweeping FEU in the finals, to clinch their sixth UAAP seniors' basketball crown. What made it more special was that they won their fourth consecutive championship, the fourth to complete the 4-peat. The teams who accomplished the same feat prior to the Blue Eagles' reign were the 1965-71 UE Red Warriors, the 1993-96 UST Growling Tigers, and the 1998-2001 De La Salle Green Archers. Credit that to Finals MVP Nico Salva, who dominated the court with his veteran moves.
1 - FEU Did The Petron!
Although the FEU Tamaraws fell prey to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the UAAP Finals, the Tams proved to everyone that they can still pull off the rug against all odds. They had a twice-to-beat disadvantage in their Final 4 encounter with Adamson, picked to make the Finals by many, including me. But FEU showed their might and championship experience in the semis. They blew off the Soaring Falcons in the first game (technically the second because of AdU's twice-to-beat incentive, equivalent to a 1-0 lead in a best-of-three) and played well despite the late rally ignited by Adamson star Alex Nuyles to escape with a 59-49 win. FEU would stave off another late rally of Adamson, this time led by Jeric Cañada, to win the rubber match, 76-73. Although they would lose to Ateneo, FEU still fought gallantly. Many believed when I posted a blog entitled Can FEU Do the Petron?, and I was convinced with them. FEU DID THE PETRON!
About Ivan Saldajeno, the authora BS Mathematics student at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños. He was the sports editor for The Palawenian, the English school paper of the Palawan National School from 2003-2005. He is one of the page administrators for the Facebook college sports page Kasali ang School Ko sa NCAA or UAAP, and he is one of the bloggers and moderators of FlipRap. His passion in writing sports articles is still ablaze through his sports blogs: Sporty Guy and Hoops Atbp. These blogs talk about basketball, soccer, boxing, and other various sports locally and internationally.