A basketball crown will come home to Jhocson Street tonight. After shrugging off a rocky first half, the National University Lady Bulldogs would awaken in the second half, beating back the Far Eastern University Lady Tamaraws to take the 59-48 win and their first ever trophy in the UAAP women’s basketball tournament. The Lady Bulldogs finish the season with a flawless 16-0 overall record.
The game would open to a hot start for the upset-hungry Lady Tamaraws, who managed to build an 11-5 lead in the first six minutes of the quarter. Leading the Lady Tams’ charge was Ana Valenzona, who managed to drill in seven points in the quarter. Despite a last minute push from the Lady Bulldogs, the Lady Tamaraws would manage to hold on to the lead at the end of the quarter, 19-13.
The Lady Bulldogs would show some signs of life in the second quarter, finding the means to force a 23-all deadlock after seven minutes of play. FEU’s Angel Arellado and Jacqueline Tanaman however would easily douse the fire, scoring back-to-back baskets to put FEU up by four within the following minute, 27-23. Led by would-be finals MVP Gemma Miranda, the Lady Bulldogs would manage to finally close in on the Lady Tamaraws shortly before the buzzer, 29-30. The Lady Tams would manage to hold the Lady Bulldogs to a dismal 24.32% field goal percentage, while shooting a commendable 58.33% at their end of the court. Elimination round MVP and leading NU scorer Afril Bernardino was held to a mere two points in the first half.
Entering the third quarter, the Lady Bulldogs would finally find the means to pull together offensively, responding to every basket scored by the Lady Tams. Halfway through the quarter, back-to-back baskets by Andrea Tongco would give the Lady Bulldogs their first taste of the lead, 36-34. The Lady Bulldogs would manage to hold the Lady Tams to only two more points for the remainder of the quarter, while sinking two more baskets to take the 40-36 lead with three minutes left on the clock. With both squads putting each other on the defensive lockdown in those final minutes, the third quarter would end with the score unchanged.
The Lady Bulldogs would sustain momentum heading into the final period of the quarter, building 47-38 lead in the first four minutes of the quarter, getting much needed help from a reawakened Afril Bernardino. Unfazed by the deficit, Ana Valenzona would lead a 7-0 FEU rally that would cut the lead to a mere two points, 47-49, with two and a half minutes left on the clock. NU’s Trixie Antiquiera however would would manage to put out the fire, sinking a triple to extend the lead to 52-47. Moments later, Antiquiera would let out another dagger of a three, and this time while drawing the foul. She would go on to sink the free throw charity, giving the Lady Bulldogs the 56-47 edge with 2:11 left on the clock.
Ana Valenzona would sink one more free throw in the final two minutes to cut the lead, but the lone point would do no damage. Andrea Tongco would split a free throw opportunity to add another point to the NU cause. With the clock winding the down, it was clear who would be spending the night celebrating. After another round of free throws, the NU bench would spill into the court celebrating. Moments later, they would become the first Lady Bulldogs to ever raise the women’s basketball trophy.
Finals MVP Gemma Miranda led the NU charge with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Second-half heroes Andrea Tongco and Trixie Antiquiera had 12 points apiece. League MVP Afril Bernardino meanwhile had 6 points.
Ana Valenzona had 14 points and 6 rebounds in her final appearance as a Lady Tamaraw. Jacqueline Tanaman and April Siat, also playing in the green-and-gold for the last time, had 10 points apiece.
“From the start of the UAAP, I’ve told them: one game at a time. We don’t care about winning, basta we play our best every time,” said Lady Bulldogs head coach Pat Aquino. “Yung mission namin talaga to get to the championships, di lang isa kung hindi lahat kami, even the management side. Yun ang focus namin.” Coach Aquino also announced that the Lady Bulldogs will be participating in the coming University Games.
The Lady Bulldogs came close to winning the crown last year, but were routed in a three-game series with the De La Salle University Lady Archers. The Bulldogs closed out the elimination round with a 14-0 slate to book the automatic finals berth and the thrice-to-beat finals advantage.
The Lady Tamaraws, powerhouses from the past few years, finished the elimination round with an 8-6 record. The lady cagers from Morayta routed the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigresses and the twice-to-beat Lady Archers to bag the finals slot.