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The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds


Being number one most often puts the tag on your team as the favorite, and that was the case for the University of the Philippines men’s basketball team and the National University women’s basketball squad in the UAAP Season 86 collegiate basketball tournaments.

The Fighting Maroons emerged on top after the 14-game elimination round, marking the first time the school sealed the first seed with a 12-2 record.

On the other hand, the seven-season dynasty of the Lady Bulldogs looked prime to extend to an eighth-straight crown after a 13-1 elimination round record on the back of an 11-game winning streak, with their only loss coming from UP.

But, as history told fans timelessly, the favorites are not locked to win the championship. This season proved to be a haven for sports fans who loved to bet repeatedly for the underdogs.

This 2023, just like the hit song from the rock band Boys Like Girls and international phenomenon Taylor Swift, “Two is Better Than One.”

UAAP86-MBB-UP-vs-DLSU-REYLAND-TORRES-KEVIN-QUIAMBAO-7244 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports newsSecond-seeded De La Salle University toppled UP on the men’s side, while the second-ranked University of Santo Tomas ended NU’s almost-a-decade-long dynasty on the women’s side, both in epic and storybook-like fashions.

The Maroons and the Archers easily dismantled their foes in the Final Four, leveling the playing field entering the best-of-three Finals.

But momentum changed quickly after Game 1 as UP obliterated La Salle by 30, 97-67, setting the league record for the most lopsided championship game in the Final Four era.

After that annihilation, many counted the Green Archers out. Many questioned the capabilities of first-year head coach Topex Robinson, who was 0-7 in title games, including his stints as a tactician in San Sebastian and Lyceum in the NCAA.UAAP86-MBB-UP-vs-DLSU-HC-TOPEX-ROBINSON-GOLDWIN-MONTEVERDE-7599 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports news

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The “choker” tag came back to haunt Evan Nelle anew, as fans noticed that in the biggest of games, the floor general always disappears.

Doubts came in quickly as to how this La Salle squad could come back from that destruction at the SM Mall of Asia Arena on November 29 while mostly leaning on their top guns only.

Then came the punch back. The Green Archers equalized with an impressive 82-60 win on December 3 at the SMART Araneta Coliseum as unsung heroes stepped up to forge a winner-take-all Game 3.

It was the trio of Ef Escandor, Joshua David, and CJ Austria who surprisingly took the lead in offense with 14, 12, and 11 points, respectively, as Kevin Quiambao, Mike Phillips, and Nelle took care of the other duties.

After two lopsided games, Game 3 turned out to be the closest, fought until the final buzzer in front of a UAAP basketball record crowd of 25,192 fans inside the historic Big Dome.UAAP86-MBB-G2-JD-Cagulangan-Evan-Nelle-Reyland-Torres-2875 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports news

And fittingly, this time, it was newly crowned Season 86 MVP Quiambao and Nelle who made the difference in the fourth and final quarter.

The 6-foot-6 all-around forward and the graduating point guard turned the game around for the Green Archers as they connived on a 7-0 run midway through the fourth to give their side a 70-67 lead that stood still until the final seconds.

Quiambao, who was also crowned as the Finals MVP, drained the free throws that sealed the championship, ending a seven-year drought for the Green and White.

UAAP86-MBB-G3-Kevin-Quiambao-7838 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports newsLa Salle’s story was an improbable comeback from a destruction so bad it set a record.

UAAP86-WBB-Awarding-Champion-UST-6808 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports newsFor UST’s story, it was an epic comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the most formidable, most composed, seven-time defending champion National U.

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But before the Growling Tigresses reached that moment, they had to go through a long and difficult route.

UST saw its twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four perish as UP dominated overtime in Game 1 for an 88-80 victory to force a do-or-die, but the Tigresses’ morale did not waver, responding with an 87-83 win in the rubber match to enter the Finals, where the Lady Bulldogs were waiting after finishing Ateneo de Manila University in just one game.

Then the seemingly impossible became possible in Game 1 of the championship series. UST took down NU, 76-72.

It was the Tigresses’ first win against the Lady Bulldogs in 11 years, a 74-73 triumph in overtime in the second round of Season 75 on August 31, 2012. A 20-game skid then followed for the next decade.

It was also NU’s first-ever loss in the Finals since it assumed command of the league in Season 77, sweeping the championship rounds in all its seven titles.

Luckily for the Lady Bulldogs, all is not lost in just one game in a series. They took advantage of that to send the series to a winner-take-all Game 3, winning Game 2, 72-70.

Then National U just pounced, pounced, and pounced in Game 3 to build a 14-point advantage heading into the fourth period, 61-47.

Even with 4:12 left on the clock, the Lady Bulldogs were still ahead by nine, 67-58. But the following four minutes and 11 seconds were pure heart for the Growling Tigresses.UAAP86-WBB-Finals-G3-Tantoy-Ferrer-5043-1 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports news

Graduating forward Tantoy Ferrer, who missed Season 85 due to an ACL injury, showed what she’s made of by going on a personal 9-2 run to rally UST back within two with 2:20 remaining, 69-67.

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Kent Pastrana, who was a transferee from La Salle, also had her moment when she put NU leader Camille Clarin on an isolation clinic to score the short stab that tied the game at 69 with 26.0 seconds left.UAAP86-WBB-Finals-G3-Nikki-Villasin-5186-1 The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports news

The Lady Bulldogs tried to regain the lead on a short jumper of Stef Berberabe, but she missed, leading to a Pastrana rebound, a pass to Rocel Dionisio, and the leakout pass to Nikki Villasin for the biggest layup of her career with 11.8 seconds. The score read 71-69 in favor of the Growling Tigresses.

Needing one more stop, UST completed the job as Tin Cayabyab’s attempt from deep was way short, squashing NU’s dynasty in one of the league’s most impressive comebacks to date in the biggest of games, watched by probably the biggest crowd in women’s basketball as of late, as fans spilled to the lower box area, a rare occurrence in the under-appreciated division.

Ferrer, hailed as Finals MVP, and Villasin, whose shot will be remembered for years, exited UST with the hardest gold medal that gave the school their first crown since 2006 and their 12th championship overall, making them the winningest team in women’s basketball.NCAA-99-Finals-MU-vs.-SBU-SBU The Year That Was: 2023 was the year of Animo and the second seeds Bandwagon Wire Basketball DLSU NCAA SBC UAAP UST  - philippine sports news

Even on the NCAA side of things, the underdog overcame the top dog as the third-seeded San Beda University trumped Mapua University in three games as well.

Jacob Cortez, James Payosing, Yukien Andrada, and the rest of the Red Lions roared to their first crown in five years, destroying talks that San Beda can only win championships with the help of foreign student-athletes

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Just a kid from Cavite trying to make a difference.


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