Just as it has been for nearly a decade now, National University will find itself in the crosshairs as the UAAP Season 86 Women’s Basketball Tournament kicks off.
The Lady Bulldogs have clinched seven consecutive championships and serve as the standard-bearers for women’s basketball in the Philippines. The pressure and expectations for yet another crown have become ingrained in the program. However, discussions of an eighth consecutive title are currently on hold.
“You can expect from us yung, on a daily basis, maglalaro kami nang mahusay talaga and we know for a fact na kami yung target ng a lot of schools. We have to be really prepared for this year sa UAAP,” said coach Aris Dimaunahan.
“The mindset is keeping the championship with the school and again, we don’t look too far ahead, we always take it one practice at a time, one game at a time.”
Last season, the aura of invincibility surrounding the Lady Bulldogs was tarnished after they suffered a defeat at the hands of the De La Salle Lady Archers in the second round. This loss ended NU’s impressive winning streak at 108 matches. While it was an outstanding streak, the school’s dream of surpassing the University of Connecticut’s record of 111 consecutive wins came to an end.
Though NU eventually defeated La Salle in the finals, other schools have taken note that defeating the Lady Bulldogs is indeed possible and have bolstered their lineups.
“That’s the fun part of competing, yung mga struggles and how well we could go with that lows, struggles, and yes, ang dami last year and hopefully, we’ll learn from it, come back, and hopefully madala namin this season na mas better team kami,” said Dimaunahan.
“What’s nice about women’s basketball is every team is improving. We saw last year yung coach Paul’s (Ramos) UP, sobrang nag-improve yung team ng UP last year and coach LA (Mumar) sa Ateneo. Sobrang laking bagay nun the league itself to have a high level of competition,” the former Blackwater head coach continued.
“Also we have coach Cholo (Villanueva), who’s been a winner kahit saan siya mag coach. Malaking bagay talaga yun for our competition na tumaas yung level talaga.”
When asked about the school favored to clinch this year’s championship, Dimaunahan had one team in mind. The former Barangay Ginebra star singled out the University of Santo Tomas as the primary squad to be wary of.
The Growling Tigresses still boast the talents of Eka Soriano and Tacky Tacatac, and their lineup will be even more formidable with the addition of former Lady Archers standout Kent Pastrana, who was the Rookie of the Year and a Mythical Five member in Season 82.
“Ang team to beat is still UST. They got a great core of players and may na-acquire pa sila na player from La Salle, who is (Kent) Pastrana,” he said.
“As NU, we lost five players due to graduation. I think UST is the team to beat this year and we’ll do our best to keep the championship sa school namin.”