With apologies to my readers who may have no interest whatsoever with basketball much less amateur college ball, true to my self-avowed love for the game, as the UAAP 81 Final Four unfolds, I would like to share my journal of this saga as well as the finale of the Centennial celebration of the Upsilon Sigma Phi.
21 November: The cast of the Final Four of UAAP 81 is finally complete. I just finished watching a scintillating and nail-biting contest of wills and skills between two proud teams, both with a legacy of championships, Far Eastern University (FEU) and De La Salle University (DLSU). It is a shame that a team had to lose.
The game literally went down the wire and, until literally the very last second, it was not certain whether it would be FEU or DLSU that would emerge as the winner in this do-or-die game. The three-point shots from both sides rained down relentlessly during the first quarter, but the more defensive oriented plays kept the first half close ending 38-36 in favor of the Green Archers. The second half was no different as the game continued to be very close.
Going to the last minute, with FEU behind by four points, DLSU seemed headed for the Final Four until Ken Tuffin combined with ex-Atenean Arvin Tolentino to come from behind and overhaul a four-point lead with less than a minute to go, to a win, a squeaker at 71-70 after La Salle’s Santi Santillan missed a tightly guarded under the goal shot at the last three seconds.
Despite the three-point shot heroics of Tolentino with three seconds left, I thought the real hero for FEU was the quiet and unassuming but steady Barkley Ebona that kept FEU in the game as DLSU seemed to have gained the momentum at the endgame when Aljun Melecio started hitting his shots. With this heartbreaking end to DLSU’s season, FEU now has the opportunity to make it to the Finals, but this will mean having to beat the defending champion Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) twice to make it to the Finals.
Ironically, FEU is a team that has a close affinity to AdMU. The progressive, publicly listed FEU is chaired by Gigi Montinola, my former boss in BPI, while the team is managed by his younger brother Anton, both Ateneo diehards, unless of course FEU happens to be playing against AdMU. The coach is Olsen Racela a former Ateneo spitfire of a guard during his Katipunan years. And other than the three-point specialist Arvin Tolentino, another ex-Atenean is the dependable guard Hubert Cani. If there is another team, I would cheer for other than AdMU and University of the Philippines (UP), it would have to be FEU.
24 November: Tonight, the curtains fell on the final activity of the Centennial celebration of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity. The fraternity alumni, led and bankrolled by the indefatigable businessman cum literary writer and now a budding theater producer Gari Tiongco ’62, who I unabashedly admit is my idol and the man most responsible for my introduction to the world of Upsilon, felt a cultural event, in keeping with an Upsilon tradition, a play featuring an unheralded Upsilonian war hero and martyr, Wenceslao “Bintao” Q. Vinzons, would be the best way to exemplify and to remind the younger fraternity members of the ideals of Upsilon Sigma Phi and the responsibility they carry on their shoulders as Upsilonians. Bintao was staged primarily by Upsilonians. The play was written by Efren Yambot ’60, co-directed by Tony Mabesa ’54 and Alexander Cortes ’67 and starred Joshua Jimenez ’15.
For the past two weeks, Upsilonians from all over the world returned to Diliman to rekindle the memories of fraternal fellowship culminating in an unforgettable Centennial Ball featuring the history of the Upsilon as highlighted by the inspirational presence of the oldest living Upsilonian, the 104-year-old Delfin Gonzales ’37 and its talents as exemplified
by Munich-based operatic tenor Lemuel Cuento ’89.
Today also fell on a day that history continued to be made by the UP Fighting Maroons. I actually had second thoughts about watching the play because of the game. But thanks to video recording technology, I knew I could catch the game on my return. Halfway through the play, however, I overheard from some in the audience that UP had just won over Adamson extending their series into a knockout match! Throughout the cast party that followed after the play, the historic game just won by UP over Adamson was a favorite topic of conversation.
As I sit back and leisurely watch the replay, it is quite noticeable that the Arena at the Mall of Asia is dominated by a sea of maroon as the UP diehards settled in for a must-win game against the second seed Adamson Falcons that could finally break a long championship drought for the UP Maroons. The game is expectedly physical with so much at stake and the marquee players of both teams are tightly guarded. Undaunted, Juan Gomez de Llano breaks the pace as he proceeds to make amazing aerial shots both from near and afar. The first half ends with Adamson ahead by a single point. The second half continues to be close and the lead changes hands. But Paul Desiderio, the sweet shooting forward from Cebu, comes to life and starts taking matters into his own hands. By endgame, not only does he make a critical jumpshot, Paul’s defensive stop on Papi Sarr allows Bright Akhuetie, after a great set-up pass from Juan, to have an unmolested under-the-goal shot clinching the hard-fought game for UP, 73-71 and sending thousands of screaming UP diehards into delirium.
25 November: Today, FEU hopes to do a repeat of what UP did to Adamson yesterday, force a knockout game. This is not to be however. The game is a complete opposite to the cardiac finishes of the first two playoff games. It turns out to be a rout with Ateneo leading FEU from the beginning up to the final buzzer, 80-61. Thirdy Ravena was simply unstoppable all throughout the game. I am betting that if AdMU goes on to win the championship, Ravena will again be adjudged as the Finals MVP. Tab Baldwin must be grinning from ear to ear because the team’s defensive skills definitely were the other highlight of the game as FEU’s outside shooters couldn’t simply find the range. Ateneo now awaits the results of Wednesday’s knockout game between Adamson and UP. My dream of a Finals championship between my two favorite teams is almost becoming a reality!
Until next week … one big fight!