After surviving a grueling second half that saw a three-point shootout in the third quarter and a nailbiting fourth quarter, the National University lady Bulldogs are headed to the finals after securing the automatic finals berth and thrice-to-beat advantage following a 75-71 victory over the defending champions the De La Salle University Lady Archers at the UST Gym, Saturday afternoon.
The ball game started with an exchange of baskets between last year’s finals competitors. But back-to-back baskets from Jonah Mellendres would help put the Archers up 16-9. The Lady Bulldogs however would rise to the challenge in the final two minutes to bag eight straight points. A fastbreak layup from Shelley Gupilan would give NU the lead, 17-16, seconds before the first quarter buzzer sounded.
The second quarter however would belong to the Lady Bulldogs, as a La Salle coldspell gave NU the means to extend the lead to double digits, 36-24, in the final seconds. The collapsing La Salle offensive would give way for the Lady Bulldogs to close the half with lead, 36-26.
A reinvigorated La Salle squad would re-enter the court, quickly cutting the lead to 37-41 in the first three minutes. NU’s Andrea Tongco would fire back with a three to extend the lead for NU, 44-37. The basket would signal the start of a virtual three-point shootout between the two squads with Jonah Mellendres and Trisha Piatos sinking threes of their own, while Tongco responded to both calls with two more three-point treys. A three-pointer by Gemma Miranda and baskets from Ria Nabalan would extend the NU lead to 53-43 approaching the last four minutes of the quarter, but Camille Claro and Trisha Piatos would fire back with three-pointers of their own to help trim the lead in only two minutes. After another exchange of baskets in the final minutes, NU would cling to the lead, 60-57.
Both teams would continue firing back at each other for most of the fourth quarter. Baskets from Miller Ong and Nicole Garcia would push La Salle to 69-70, with less than a minute remaining. Two free throw baskets from Cass Santos would give La Salle the lead for the first time since the first quarter, 71-70, but NU’s Miranda would quickly retake the lead for NU with a layup, 72-71.
The score would remain unchanged entering the final minute. La Salle would have the chance to overtake once more with 30 seconds left on the clock, but Miranda would manage to swipe the ball from La Salle and pass to Shelley Gupilan, who would be fouled on the fastbreak attempt. Gupilan would split the free throw opportunity, but Andrea Tongco would bag the rebound. With possession still with NU, the Lady Archers would resort to fouling. After a couple of free throws in the dying seconds, the Lady Bulldogs would walk away with their fourteenth straight win in this season’s women’s basketball tournament.
Gemma Miranda led NU with 23 points and 6 rebounds, with Andrea Tongco and Shelley Gupilan contributing 13 and 12 markers respectively. Trisha Piatos led La Salle with 15 points.
With the win and the sweep, NU gain the automatic finals berth and the thrice-to-beat. La Salle, who close out their regular season campaign second at 10-4, will face the victor of the step-ladder match-up between the FEU Lady Tamaraws and the UST Growling Tigresses, who both finished the regular season at 8-6.