Evan Nelle is set to finish his collegiate career against a familiar rival.
After steering De La Salle to a dominant 97-73 triumph over National University in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Nelle is set to face JD Cagulangan and his University of the Philippines in the finals next week.
The 5-foot-10 guard, who contributed 15 points, eight assists, and five rebounds in the Green Archers’ victory over the Bulldogs, felt that his matchup with Cagulangan would be a full-circle moment for him.
“Siya na naman no?
“I’ve played against him since high school. Someone asked me a while ago who I was excited to play against in the Final Four, I said JD. I haven’t played against him this whole season so it’s gonna be a tough matchup for sure,” he said.
The duo figured in a triple overtime classic in the NCAA Season 93 Final Four that saw Cagulangan emerge victorious.
Cagulangan hit big shot after big shot as he led the Greenies to the finals and ultimately their first championship.
As fate would have it, though, the two ended up competing in the UAAP. Cagulangan moved to UP while Nelle transferred to La Salle soon after.
Once again, both of them then faced off in the Final Four of Season 84.
Nelle led La Salle to a win in game one but Cagulangan and UP eventually prevailed in game two with the latter landing the biggest shot of his career against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals to end the Fighting Maroons’ 36-year drought.
“When I play him, utakan kami. He’s really good. He knows how to control the pace. He knows how to control the game. I just have to match his effort and maybe even do more,” said the 25-year-old point guard.
It has taken so long for Nelle to reach this stage. He suffered disappointments with La Salle in his first two years as a Green Archer.
“Bittersweet, I guess? I’m just focusing on the now. I’m not thinking of the past seasons,” he said.
“I’m staying in the moment. I’m actually excited but as well said, we have to control our emotions. Madami pang pwedeng mangyari so we have to prepare.”
Nelle and the rest of the Green Archers now have to win La Salle’s first championship since Season 79. Going up against Cagulangan and the rest of the Fighting Maroons will be difficult but they will give it their best shot.
If there is a time for Nelle to finally defeat Cagulangan, it surely must be now.
“We’re happy but we’re not contended.
“We got a big challenge up ahead against UP. We will stay grounded and prepare for Wednesday,” he said.