After an emotional win against the rebuilding De La Salle University team in the 2003 UAAP Final Four, Wesley Gonzalez recounts that they were all spent when they met the Far Eastern University Tamaraws for the Men’s Basketball Title of the 66th UAAP Season. The Blue Eagles then bannered by Gonzales, 2 Time UAAP MVP Rich Alvarez, Paolo Bugia, Larry Fonacier, LA Tenorio and a freshman named Chris Tiu were all physically and emotionally spent after winning over the De La Salle Green Archers after two close games in the final four. After that Tuesday game, the Blue Eagles needed some rest and were asking for a reset of the finals from the host school since Game 1 will immediately start two days after their final four win. Unfortunately, the host school did not grant them their request so the original schedule was followed and the finals went on with the Blue Eagles losing to the FEU Tamaraws in what is known as the most lopsided finals meltdown in the final four era. The host that season was the Ateneo.
Eight seasons from that monumental meltdown, the Ateneo Blue Eagles finally exacted revenge as the favored team in Blue waylaid the mighty Far Eastern University Tamaraws 82 – 69 to win game 2 of the 74th UAAP Basketball Senior’s division finals and capture their fourth straight UAAP championship. Standing tall in their twin victories is fourth year forward Nico Salva who scored 24 points in the first game and followed it up with a 15 point five rebounds and two assists effort in this game. Leading the team in scoring is the phenomenal super rookie Kiefer Ravena who topscored with 18 points and also had six rebounds and two assists as the Season 74 Rookie of the year ran rings around his defenders.
The first quarter was another show me what you got stage which is reminiscent of every Ateneo-FEU game. Both teams were fighting toe to toe with neither team giving some leeway with Kiefer Ravena and Nico Salva making things happen for the Blue Eagles while Aldrech Ramos was carrying the fight for the Tamaraws. Unfortunately for the Tamaraws the Ateneo second unit caught fire as they closed out the first quarter with great defense and precise shooting to end the first quarter on top 23 – 18.
The second quarter continued with Juami Tiongson scoring five straight points on a three pointer and a tear drop to give the Eagles a 28 - 18 lead with still 8:14 to go in the quarter. That spurt awakened the Tamaraws as they went on a defensive rampage that limited the Blue Eagles to taking jumpshots and missing. Aldrech Ramos carried the Tamaraws on his shoulders and brought them back as he teamed up with RR Garcia to close the half on top 36 -35.
Coach Norman Black said in his post game interview that he was holding back in the first half so that when he comes out with guns blazing in the second half it will take the Tamaraws a harder time to react. The Blue Eagles tigthened their defense once again and started out a 14 – 2 run to control the third quarter and the game as the Blue Eagles opened up a 49 – 38 lead with 3: 54 left in the quarter after Tonino Gonzaga raced down the court to score on a three point play.
That play signalled the end for the Tamaraws as the surge of the Blue Eagles was so hard to contain and their defense too hard to breach. Because of that the fourth quarter became moot and academic as the Tamaraws never really got closer. The lead even ballooned to 19 points with two minutes left as the Blue Eagle faithfuls were celebrating with the Eagles on top 76 - 57. Playing his last year in the UAAP, Pipo Nondou made a brief appearance with less than two minutes left as he played for the first time this season, but his appearance hardly mattered for there was nothing that was going to deny the Blue Eagles of their impending victory.
The four-peat made the Blue Eagles join the UE Red Warriors (1965 – 71) UST Growling Tigers (1993 - 1996) and DLSU Green Archers (1998 - 2001) as the only teams that won four straight. At the same time their seven titles over-all ties them with the De La Salle Green Archers and trails the UE Warriors who has 18 titles, the FEU Tamaraws that has won 17 and the UST Tigers with 16 titles. Adding the 14 titles that the Blue Eagles won in the NCAA, the Blue Eagles have now won a combined 24 league titles – the most in Philippine Collegiate basketball.
The Ateneo community clearly outnumberd the FEU faithfuls as 70% of the 18,423 fans that filled the Smart Araneta Coliseum were all clad in Blue and White to witness this monumental beat up that Blue Eagle fans have been waiting for years. This win can be dedicated by the Blue Eagles to their brothers who got beaten up in 2003. Year in and year out, the captains of the Blue Eagles would lead by example and pass on the tradition that has been what being a Blue Eagle is all about. The Ateneo community will surely miss the three captains, Emman Monfort, Kirk Long and Bacon Austria for they are the living example that defense wins championships. This marks the second time the Blue Eagles copped the Seniors title as hosts with the last coming in 1987 and another one would have been won in 2003 had the schedule been nicer to the host school like this this year. Congratulations to the Ateneo Blue Eagles, stay tune for our drive for five!
Ateneo de Manila (82)
Ravena 18, Salva 15, Slaughter 11, Tiongson 11, Monfort 9, Gonzaga 6, Long 5, Chua 5, Erram 2, Pessumal 0, Sumalinog 0, Golla 0, Austria 0
Far Eastern University (69)
Ramos 20, Garcia 16, Tolomia 7, Romeo 7, Escoto 4, Bringas 4, Exciminiano 4, Foronda 3, Cruz 2, Noundou 2, Pogoy 0, Mendoza 0, Knuttel 0
Quarter scoring: 23-18, 35-36, 57-45, 82-69