La Salle celebrates at the final buzzer. —PHOTOS COURTESYOF UAAP
A hundred and eight times before, opponents tried and failed—some miserably.
It took an extra five minutes on Wednesday, but La Salle finally got it right.
The Lady Archers handed National U’s (NU) previously untouchable Lady Bulldogs their first loss in nine seasons—and after a record 108 games—via a pulsating 61-57 victory in the UAAP Season 85 women’s basketball tournament at University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) Quadricentennial Pavilion.
“You need the perfect players, the perfect rotation to beat a perfect team,” said La Salle coach Cholo Villanueva. “My girls just wanted it more. They get all the credit today.”
“It’s the first time that they sang their alma mater song second [in a game against NU] after how many years,” Villanueva added, referring to the UAAP tradition of the winning team belting out their school hymn after the losing squad sings theirs, something that the Lady Bulldogs had done since 2014. “It’s a big achievement for La Salle. And of course, a big achievement for our women’s basketball program … stopping that streak.
“[B]ut we want one more achievement. We want to win the championship.”
Fina Tchuido powered the Lady Archers’ historic win with 14 points and 19 rebounds in 42 minutes of play.
“[M]y mindset in the last quarter, I just wanted to win the game,” Tchuido said.
With 10.5 seconds remaining in the payoff period, La Salle was holding a 49-46 advantage after Lee Sario’s split free throws but Mikka Cacho salvaged a triple off a broken play to add five more minutes to the Lady Bulldogs’ incomparable winning streak.
But the Lady Archers never wavered in overtime as Sario sank a triple followed by two free throws from Charmine Torres for a 57-52 breather.
Eighty-three seconds later, the buzzer erupted, initiating a scene that looked like it had been dug out of UAAP lore: La Salle was also the last squad to beat NU, 69-61, on October 5, 2013, in Game 3 of the Season 76 finals.
From 2014 onwards, the Lady Bulldogs never lost a game until they ran into the Lady Archers, who dusted off a Final Four format that had been gathering cobwebs in the women’s side after being shelved for nine seasons.
La Salle’s Green Archers were not so bad themselves, keeping their own Final Four hopes alive in the men’s side.
“We talked and agreed that the last five games will be the start of our season,’’ said La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren after his wards forged a 63-58 victory over the NU Bulldogs.
Winston back, briefly
Penny Estacio stepped out of the shadows, firing all of his 13 points—and even outscoring the entire NU crew—in the pivotal third quarter where La Salle took control.
“We needed this win because we’re aiming to be in the Final Four. I didn’t force it, my shots just went in,’’ said Estacio, who started for La Salle for the first time and gallantly filled up the shoes of the high-scoring Schonny Winston, who continues to nurse a strained calf.