HISTORY. Redemption. Controversy. Dynasty.
The Philippine collegiate hoops had it all in a much-awaited return, lacking no shortage of milestones for distinguished schools led by Collegio San Juan de Letran, University of the Philippines (UP), Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and National University (NU).
As the Knights capped a three-peat in the NCAA, the Fighting Maroons and the Blue Eagles went back-and-forth for UAAP supremacy while the Lady Bulldogs clinched their seventh straight title in UAAP women’s hoops — all fueled by the hunger and thirst from a long hiatus due to the pandemic.
Aside from completing a hat trick in the NCAA against three different final opponents, Letran under the tutelage of coach Bonnie Tan owned a page in the history books by being the country’s first twin-champion in just a year.
After sweeping Season 97, the Knights met a strong resistance from College of St. Benilde (CSB) this time but still prevailed on top of Season 98 after a three-game finale duel — catapulting them to their 20th overall NCAA cup.
Jeo Ambohot was named the Season 97 Finals MVP followed by King Caralipio in Season 98 while Rhenz Abando was hailed as the Rookie-MVP in Season 97, the first for the NCAA since 2015 when Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme achieved the same feat.
Will Gozum won the Season MVP in Season 98 as CSB barged into the NCAA finals for the first time in 20 years before falling short to the mighty Letran.
In the UAAP, Katipunan rivals UP NU and Ateneo took turns in hoisting the crown after figuring in two straight finals duels.
The UP Fighting Maroons, with debuting collegiate coach Goldwin Monteverde at helm, drew first blood behind JD Cagulangan’s game-winner in Season 84 to win its first title in 36 years.
UP, which ended the dynasty of then three-time reigning champion Ateneo in the process, actually had a chance to keep mastery of its rival and follow Letran’s suit in capturing a twin-title this year by arranging a finals rematch with Ateneo in Season 85.
The Tab Baldwin-mentored Blue Eagles exacted vengeance though, regaining their rightful throne by ruling Season 85 albeit in another three-game thriller, for their fourth in the last five seasons and 12th overall title.
Ange Kouame and Malick Diouf stamped their dominance in two straight gigantic battles with Mr. Kouame winning the Season 84 MVP and Season 85 Finals MVP plum while Diouf hoisted the Season 84 Finals MVP and Season 85 MVP.
Like any other year though, there were some scratches, too, as John Amores of Jose Rizal University (JRU) ran amok and punched multiple players in an NCAA game against College of St. Benilde, making the headlines for the wrong reason en route to an indefinite NCAA suspension and expulsion from the JRU basketball team.
SEVENTH TITLE IN A ROW
But brightest of the 2022 lights belonged to coach Aris Dimaunahan and the NU Lady Bulldogs, who despite a bump on the road still clinched a record-tying, seventh straight basketball title in the UAAP.
Behind Finals MVP Kristine Cayabyab with veterans Mikka Cacho and Camille Clarin, NU vented its ire on De La Salle with a sweep in the Season 85 finals to join the great University of the East squad of coach Baby Dalupan and Robert Jaworski Sr., in the 60s-70s as the only seven-peat collegiate basketball champion.
The Lady Bulldogs actually saw the end of their 108-game win streak that stood tall for almost a decade after an elims loss against La Salle but still claimed the ultimate goal to extend an invincible women’s hoops dynasty.
Eka Soriano of Santo Tomas, meanwhile, won the Season 85 MVP honor. — John Bryan Ulanday