Sun 22 May 2022

THE REVOLUTION IS BACK: Cagulangan ousts Ateneo dynasty, brings crown to UP

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A dozen generations live in him.

Thanks to the late game heroics of JD Cagulangan, the Iskolar ng Bayan erased thirty-six years of basketball heartbreak, as the floor general paved the University of the Philippines’ way to the UAAP men’s basketball championship in overtime of the Finals game 3 against Ateneo de Manila University, 72-69, Friday evening at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The littlest man on the floor swished step-back three with five-tenths of a second remaining—his second in overtime—to win the championship for the Fighting Maroons.

“Sobrang sarap, wala akong masabi. Champion na kami. Sobrang sarap talaga,” said Cagulangan who hails from Butuan.

IN PHOTOS: UP bonfire lights up Diliman as 36-year title drought ends

Earlier, Cagulangan pumped in a triple with 1 minute, 22 seconds left after skying for a rebound past the challenge by seven-footer Ange Kouame to inch closer, 67-69.

Thereafter, Cagulangan dished a nifty pass off a pick-and-roll for Finals Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf, who slammed the equalizer.

In the ensuing possession, Dave Ildefonso bricked a fadeaway jumper, which led to Cagulangan’s championship-clinching three.

Ildefonso likewise failed on his hail Mary with less than a second left as the entire Fighting Maroons stormed the center court, partying like it is 1986, the last time State U won the much coveted men’s basketball crown.

Cagulangan finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals while Diouf topscored with 17 points and nine rebounds.

CJ Cansino, returning from a knee injury for the first time since the final round-robin game, added 14 points off four triples, including a bank triple to send the game to overtime.

UP’s championship has ended Ateneo’s four-peat dynasty under the leadership of basketball genius Tab Baldwin.

The Blue Eagles were led by national team standout SJ Belangel, who scored a career-high 27 points while tournament MVP and national team import Ange Kouame chipped in 12 points, 14 boards, four assists, and three blocks.

Turning the tables

After the final buzzer, UP has clinched only its third men’s basketball championship in UAAP history and tenth overall in the seniors division.

They shared their first championship with the Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas (UST) in 1939 and 37 years later, the women’s squad won seven titles from 1976 to 1983.

The next men’s crown was won in 1986, eight months after the EDSA People Power Revolution, by a squad led by all-time greats Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc and coached by Bobby Knight-mentored Joe Lipa, who later coached the national team to multiple medals.

The Fighting Maroons, employing Lipa’s revolutionary motion offense, swept the twice-to-beat defending champions University of the East, led by the league’s best big man Jerry Codiñera, by an average margin of ten points in the Season 49 finals.

However, it was a one-and-done crown for the next 36 years as Lipa recruited the Maroons’ core to the national team, serving country first before school.

The Fighting Maroons then were a losing team in the early ‘90s but managed to enter the Final Four from 1996 to 1997 in a squad led by Paolo Mendoza and Bryan Gahol and mentored by the 1986 squad’s shooting guard Eric Altamirano.

The Fighting Maroons suffered several mediocre seasons by the turn of the millennium, including winless seasons in 2007, 2010, and 2013 but the entry of ex-PBA coach Bo Perasol and the rise of Paul Desiderio, ex-NCAA MVP Bright Akhuetie, and the Gomez De Liano brothers brought UP to a surprise Finals appearance in 2018 but was swept by the Thirdy Ravena and Kouame-led Blue Eagles.

UP then brandished a superstar lineup that added Kobe Paras and ex-La Salle champion Ricci Rivero but was upset by UST in the Final Four in 2019.

After the COVID-19 crisis, the Fighting Maroons returned the crown to Diliman in a squad beefed up by ex-Centro Escolar University import Diouf, ex-NCAA juniors MVP Cagulangan, ex-Thomasian rival Cansino, Filipino-American Zavier Lucero, and lone national team player Carl Tamayo.

The squad recruited high school champion coach Goldwyn Monteverde, who steered the National University high school program to three championships in the 2010s Perasol.

The Fighting Maroons defeated perhaps the most accomplished collegiate squad in recent memory, as the Season 84 Blue Eagles have four national team players in their roster—Belangel, Kouame, Ildefonso, and Geo Chiu—who have won twice against South Korea and lost in a toe-to-toe battle against Serbia.

The win also made Rivero the only basketball player to have won championships in two different teams. He earlier won with De La Salle during his rookie season in 2016.

Tamayo credits the “winning” system of Monteverde, his long-time mentor with the Bullpups.

“Nakapag-build ng culture na UP is a winning team dahil kay Coach Gold, dahil sa system niya, sa staff… Ginawa lahat para ma-build ang culture na ganon,” Tamayo, a member of the Mythical Five, said after the game.

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