Will there still be a team strong enough to beat the National University? As the UAAP Season 78 women’s basketball tournament finals draws closer, the only storyline that matters is if the Lady Bulldogs can lose this season.
With a powerful lineup that picked teams apart in the elimination round, there is no doubt NU is the best team in the league, and the finals may become only a formality for the cagers from Sampaloc seeking to defend their crown.
The last team standing in the way of the Lady Bulldogs’ 16-0 quest is the resilient Ateneo de Manila University, who have battled back and survived five do-or-die games en route to putting up one of the more memorable runs in tournament history.
Ateneo have shown the tenacity to overcome tough challenges throughout the playoffs by playing better team basketball and showing more depth and maturity on the floor.
The odds are still against the Lady Eagles, who had lost by an average of 30.5 points to the Lady Bulldogs in their elimination round meetings. NU is the league’s best offensive team and the no. 1 in terms of assists, and will be bannered by two-time reigning MVP Afril Bernardino.
Bernardino averaged 14.5 PPG, 8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, and 2.1 BPG in the elimination round and will be backstopped by solid support from veterans Shelley Gupilan, Gemma Miranda, and Andrea Tongco.
The Lady Eagles will still have Danica Jose as their main weapon, but they have shown the ability draw offense from more vital cogs. In the semi-finals series against La Salle, Hazelle Yam led the way with 17 PPG while Jollina Go added 12 PPG. Akiko Tomita came off the bench with 7.5 PPG.
Keys to the series
As the defending champions, the Lady Bulldogs should show how dominant they are, and be the ones to bully the other side. With plenty of shot-creators, NU love to attack the basket. They have reliable three-point gunners in Gupilan, Andrea Tongco, Sam Paig, and Trixie Antiquiera as well, so it starts with being aggressive all-game long.
The Lady Eagles must be able to utilize more points of attack in their offense. In the series against La Salle, Ateneo had more assists per game, 13-7.5. They should keep moving as a team and get everyone touches, making NU have a hard time figuring out who is going to take charge. In general, Ateneo must keep up with NU defensively and try their best not to allow NU to attack the basket. They must control the boards for more opportunities to run.
Paig hit six triples during the Lady Bulldogs’ last elimination round game against the Lady Archers. Such firepower should help give NU a different dimension and more boost.
Tomita averaged 7.5 PPG in the series against La Salle, beating the Lady Archers frontline with her footwork underneath the basket to generate shots. She must continue complementing the Lady Eagles with her presence inside to give them more options on offense.
It will be a closer battle this time around, but the National University will win their second consecutive title via another season sweep. The Lady Bulldogs are just too loaded and too talented to lose this one.
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