Cagulangan ends UP’s 36-year title drought, Ateneo’s dynasty

May 14 ------ After being on the wrong end of fairy tale stories for the past 36 years, University of the Philippines finally achieved the sweetest of victories. In front of generations of Iskos and Iskas, the Fighting Maroons of Diliman ended Ateneo de Manila University’s dominance in UAAP Men’s Basketball, taking a 72-69 overtime triumph in Game Three of the Season 84 Finals, Friday at SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City. And it’s all thanks to one JD Cagulangan.

The NCAA Season 94 Juniors Basketball Most Valuable Player only played a total of 34 minutes during his rookie year three years ago with De La Salle University. But tonight, with the game tied at 69-all, he uncorked a booming triple with five split seconds left on the clock. Pandemonium soon erupted afterwards. Half of the 15,132 fans inside the venue exploded in cheers, while the rest broke down in tears. “Sobrang sarap. Wala akong masabi kasi champion na kami,” said Cagulangan, a native of Butuan, who wound up with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. “Sobrang sarap talaga.”

Finally, the wait has ended for UP. This is UP’s third title in the league. They won their first title all the way back to the second season of the league; then followed it up 47 years later during season 49. “I feel very happy right now,” said the soft-spoken first-year head coach of the Fighting Maroons Goldwin Monteverde. “I want to thank the UP community, [and] I also want to thank the Lord God for this championship.”

UP drew first blood in the series with an 81-74 escape; then the defending champions took it back with a 69-66 squeaker. And just like both games, this match-up was an epic. SJ Belangel, who was putting up a performance for the ages, gave the Blue Eagles a 59-56 lead with 56.7 seconds left in regulation after canning two freebies. The returning CJ Cansino answered right back with a three nine seconds later to knot things up. Neither the Fighting Maroons nor the Blue Eagles could come up with buckets during the final seconds of regulation. Gerry Abadiano missed a couple of threes, while Ange Kouame could not convert on their side of the court.

In overtime, Belangel took charge, knocked down clutch baskets. He later on found Gian Mamuyac for a corner triple with 1:47 left to give the Blue Eagles a 69-64 lead. But just as the Fighting Maroons showed all season long, they rose. Off a Malick Diouf airball, Cagulangan was able to grab the rebound and buried a trey to cut the lead down to two. Misses by Belangel and Kouame then led to a Cagulangan find to Diouf, who slammed the ball down with 38.7 seconds left to tie things up. Off a timeout, Dave Ildefonso missed on his attempt that led to Cagulangan’s heroics.

Diouf led UP with 17 points, nine rebounds, and three steals. He averaged 12.3 rebounds, 11.7 points, 2.7 steals, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks in the series to win Finals MVP. Cansino, meanwhile, played his first game since the last game of the elimination round after suffering a knee injury. He added 14 points in just 11 minutes of action. Ricci Rivero ended his collegiate career with two championships. Also graduating from UP is Noah Webb.

Belangel led the Blue Eagles with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Kouame tallied 12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Meanwhile, Tyler Tio, who wound up with just two points; and Gian Mamuyac, who had 10 points, six rebounds, and three assists, played their final game for Ateneo. Ildefonso was limited to just two points in 30 minutes of action. It is still unknown whether BJ Andrade, Raffy Verano, and Jolo Mendoza also played their final games for Ateneo.

The Scores:

UP 72 — Diouf 17, Cansino 14, Cagulangan 13, Rivero 9, Alarcon 8, Tamayo 6, Spencer 3, Lucero 0, Abadiano 0, Fortea 0.

Ateneo 69 — Belangel 27, Kouame 12, Mamuyac 10, Koon 6, Verano 5, Ildefonso 2, Tio 2, Andrade 0, Daves 0, Chiu 0.

Quarterscores: 17-11, 31-27, 46-47, 59-59, 72-69.