Defending champions National University Lady Bulldogs started their quest for a fourth straight UAAP Women’s Basketball Championship with a 69-66 overtime win against the University of the East Lady Warriors.
It was also the Lady Bulldogs’ 49th consecutive victory in the competition which already spans four seasons and three championships. They were led by Rhena Itesi and Jack Animam who produced 14 points each with 11 and 15 rebounds respectively today at the Blue Eagle Gym in Ateneo de Manila University. Mikka Cacho and Ria Nabalan also chipped in 11 and 12 points.
“It’s good for us to have this kind of game,” commented NU mentor Pat Aquino. “It makes us mature enough and make us realize that we’re vulnerable. Aside from that, I’ll take that game no matter what. We fought hard for it and I think the girls deserve that win.”
NU proved that it was raring to go this Season 80 as the Ever Bilena backed got its biggest lead of the ballgame at 27-10 courtesy of Samantha Harada’s lay-up at the end of the first quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs maintained their control of the proceedings as they led 52-37 entering the final period. While observers may have expected the contest to have ended right then and there, but the Lady Warriors had other plans.
Two free throws from UE forward Ruthlaine Tacula cut the deficit to 57-47 with roughly 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter. With frustration setting in, Aquino was called for a technical foul at the 7:33 mark due to continuous complaining.
Momentum was at UE’s side at this point and a 13-0 run capped off by Tacula’s seven unanswered points gave the Lady Warriors a 57-58 lead with 3:18 left in the game. Itesi then retaliated with three baskets of her own to swing the lead back to the Lady Bulldogs to 60-58.
Aquino’s wards had one last possession to secure the victory but the Lady Warriors forced a turnover which allowed Tacula to breakaway and level the game at 60-60 with 20.7 seconds left in regulation.
Only 20.7 seconds were left in the game clock and UE almost forced another turnover, only for Je Anne Camelo to shoot what looked like the game winner. Fortunately for UE, the match officials deemed that Camelo ran out of time.
Come overtime, the championship poise of the Lady Bulldogs proved too much for the Lady Warriors. Animam took over the period and her freebies with 11 seconds left handed NU a 69-64 separation.
It ended NU 69-66 UE in what was a classic game to kickstart both schools’ campaigns. Tacula led UE with 26 points while both Love Sto. Domingo and Eunique Chan made double-doubles with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
This game was NU’s first UAAP game without stalwarts Gemma Miranda and Afril Bernardino and Aquino looked up to the challenge. “I try to make use of all my players just to make them feel the game. It’s just a long season this way. I see myself having everybody be prepared in such situations.”
Up next for NU (1-0) shall be a finals rematch against De La Salle University on September 16, 8:00 AM in the Smart Araneta Coliseum. On the other hand, UE (0-1) shall play Far Eastern University on September 13, 8:00 AM in Araneta as well.
NU 69 – Itesi 14, Animam 14, Cacho 12, Nabalan 11, Antiquera 6, Camelo 4, Harada 4, Sison 2, Ano-Os 1, Ceño 1, Del Carmen 0, Layug 0.
UE 66 – Tacula 26, Sto. Domingo 11, Chan 11, Cortizano 6, Requiron 6, Francisco 4, Ramos 2, Gayacao 0, Strachan 0, Antonio 0.
Quarterscores: 27-10, 39-27, 52-37, 60-60, 69-66.