For the sixth straight season, National University is on the verge of rewriting history again, topping University of Santo Tomas, 70-65, in a hard-fought Game One of the UAAP Season 82 Women’s Basketball Finals Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
With this, the Lady Bulldogs move on the cusp of a historic sixth straight championship.
Kelli Hayes got things done for NU with her 16 points, four rebounds, two steals, an assist, and a block. Still, they had to scratch and claw for this 95th straight win to extend their legendary win streak.
Her efforts couldn’t have come at a better time, with Mythical Team member Jack Animam missing the tiff.
Animam hurt her right eye after getting elbowed in Gilas Womens’ game against Korea last Saturday in the 2019 FIBA Women’s Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which kept her in New Zealand.
“Everyone has big shoes to fill with Jack, not just Kelli,” said coach Pat Aquino, relieved from the efforts that his girls showed. “I’m just happy. What can I say? I’m sad that Jack was not here with us, but happy that everyone stepped up.”
With NU holding on to a close 67-65 lead, Kaye Pingol buried the crucial three with 1:32 left to make it a five-point affair. Hayes then snuffed Jeorge Panti’s drive in the final 37 seconds to quash UST’s hopes of an upset.
“I know they were going to come back. I just told the girls to keep on playing and don’t mind the score, and they were able to do so,” he said. “I know that UST is going to come back. They’ve been great this season, but we always have to play NU basketball all forty minutes.”
Pingol got her share of 12 points, six rebounds, five assists, and four steals. Meanwhile, Rhena Itesi topscored for the Lady Bulldogs with her 17 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks.
Mikka Cacho also added 11 points and six rebounds, plus two of the three three-pointers for NU, who only shot 3-of-24 from deep.
History is once again in the hands of the Lady Bulldogs. They have the chance to lock up this sixth straight title in Game Two on Saturday, still at the same venue.
Season MVP Grace Irebu bannered the Golden Tigresses with 17 points, 18 rebounds, and five blocks. Tacky Tacatac collected 10 points, two boards, and two steals in the loss.
NU 70 — Itesi 17, Hayes 16, Pingol 12, Cacho 11, Canuto 4, Del Carmen 4, Surada 4, Clarin 2, Bartolo 0, Cac 0, Fabruada 0, Harada 0.
UST 65 — Irebu 17, Tacatac 10, Ferrer 9, Soriano 8, Callangan 7, Gandalla 5, Portillo 4, Rivera 4, Panti 1, Gonzales 0, Javier 0.
Quarterscores: 21-22, 41-38, 57-53, 70-65.