Ah, the decade of the 2000s (2000 to 2009), included the tail end of the second millennium (2000 -- the new millennium actually began on 2001, unless Jesus was born at year 0) brought Pinoy college hoops to new heights: the revival of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, with FEU and UST figuring in the mix, epic Letran-PCU battles, the resurrection of San Beda's basketball program, and suspensions due to forged documents. The old decade ended with a glimmer of hope -- an impending expansion of the oldest collegiate league, and UE on the verge of winning it all, well, they're always on the verge of winning it all so...
#10: Game 2 of the 2005 UAAP Finals: FEU 73, La Salle 71
There was one reason why Arwind Santos didn't go pro in 2005: to avenge what happened to the Tams in 2004. Arwind got his wish when the FEU and La Salle met again in a rematch the year before: only this time, FEU now has to counter the exploits of Joseph Yeo.
In this season, FEU, La Salle and Ateneo were the top 3 teams, but only two teams will advance to the Finals: FEU was beaten by Ateneo at the tail end of the eliminations but that wasn't enough as they left the Blues and the Greens behind. The arch-rivals faced each other in a playoff for the second seed, and La Salle maintained their mastery over the school from Katipunan with a blowout win. The Archers ended the Eagles' misery with another blowout at the semifinals to forge a Finals rematch with the Tamaraws, who were taken to the limit by the UE Red Warriors.
Game 1 ended with the heroics of Arwind Santos in the final minutes; This was also the game where Lasallians would rather forget(?) when Manny Salgado hit Arwind at the back of his head, then ran away screaming like a little girl .Arwind again saved the team in Game 2, also in the final play to deny the Green Archers a win in the Finals series. The next day, the La Salle scandal was exposed in the papers. No, it was not the sex scandal.
#9: Game 1 of the 2003 UAAP semifinals: La Salle 76, Ateneo 72
Everyone from Ateneo and La Salle in 2003 wanted an Ateneo-La Salle finals (but they'll answer you that they'll take any opponent, but deep down inside, they craved for it.), but Arwind Santos and FEU had other plans. And they along with UE tied with Ateneo for first; La Salle had their worst season in Final Four history -- bad enough for a 7-7 record and a #4 seed. Ateneo got the #1 seed, FEU defeated UE in the playoff for #2, and the Ateneo-La Salle Finals would have to wait. Hey, at least there'll be an Ateneo-La Salle semifinals.
Unlike in 2001 (see #7), LA Tenorio is now a seasoned UAAP veteran, and La Salle was in a "rebuilding" mode. Despite being in a rebuilding mode, La Salle surprised everybody with a spirited semifinals, until it got too spirited in which LA Tenorio punched Jerwin Gaco at his side, and Ryan Arana was in his usual wasted self. Ejections and twenty real-time minutes later, the game resumed and La Salle forced a Game 2. With Tenorio and Arana suspended, Ateneo won to face FEU in the Finals, and series that they will lose.
#8: Game 1 of the 2000 NCAA Finals: CSB 66, San Sebastian 64
2000 was the Green Year: La Salle won the men's and women's UAAP basketball championships, and CSB qualified for the NCAA Finals for the first time in their history, and only in their second year in the league, under probation.
CSB was led by he triumvirate of Mark Magsumbol, Sunday Salvacion and Jondan Salvador, Baste had Christian Coronel and Mark Macapagal. The Stags led in the early going, but CSB cashed in at the second half in what appeared to be an easy win over last year's #1 seed (unceremoniously booted out by fourth-seeded Letran Knights in the semifinals). SSC-R prevented a rout when CSB started throwing the ball like hell, and the Stags led 64-61. But Al Magpayo, the NCAA Rookie of the Year, scored on a 3-point play off a Macapagal foul to tie the game 64-all. With forty seconds left, and the Stags gave away the possession. Magsumbol drove from the weak side, and scored on another lay-up. Coronel raced towards the other side to force OT, but was thwarted to hand CSB game 1 of the series. CSB blew out the Stags in Game 2 to clinch their still only NCAA championship for the school.
#7: Game 3 of the 2001 UAAP Finals: La Salle 74, Ateneo 68
La Salle are the three-time defending champions. They faced two different opponents in three years, and they vanquished them all. Ateneo was in a 13-year championship drought, and coach Joe Lipa's job hangs in the balance. Ateneo gave La Salle a scare in Game 1, but Ateneo broke through with a Game 2 win thanks to a Magnum Membrere trey that Ren-Ren Ritualo wasn't able to answer at the other end to force Game 3.
In Game 3, it was the tale of two players: Carlo Sharma scoring 22 points, and 11 points in the payoff period that negated rookie LA Tenorio's 30 points -- yes, 30 points for a rookie in Game 3 -- to give La Salle the third four-peat in the UAAP.
#6: Game 1 of the 2006 UAAP Finals: Ateneo 73, UST 72
Despite the Ateneans' constant downplaying of their chances for the 2006 season, the Blue Eagles suffered only two defeats during the abbreviated elimination round thanks to La Salle's suspension: an inconsequential game against UE, and an overtime loss against their Finals opponents UST. Thomasians were just giddy to be in the Finals, having to go through three games to get there.
Ateneo and UST played a see-saw game all throughout, and again it hinged on the final possession of the game for each team: Ateneo lead by one point when Jervy Cruz had a tough time entering Ateneo's interior defense. He kicked out the ball to Allan Evangelista, who was covered well by Doug Kramer himself. The UST captain sank a fadeaway jumper to put UST up by one, but there was still a fraction of a second remaining.
Norman Black then devised what could've been the most exhilarating play of the decade. Macky Escalona inbounded the ball, Chris Tiu set a pick to separate Japs Cuan and Doug Kramer from each other, and Escalona gave the ball to Kramer for a wide-open lay-up to give Ateneo a 1-0 series lead.
#5: Game 1 of the 2004 NCAA semifinals: Letran 65, PCU 64
Letran wanted a back-t0-back title run, after a masterful conquest of San Sebastian a season earlier. However, two of the newest schools in the league, PCU and UPHSD finished tied for first. Letran had to settle for a semifinal meeting with PCU, having to win twice. They could've finished easily in the top 2 but hot-headed Ronjay Enrile was suspended for choking a San Sebastian player in eliminations.
On this game, Letran and PCU forged what could've been college basketball's epic rivalry of the decade, only that PCU's juniors teams did something silly and wasted a perfect opportunity to lay the foundations of a collegiate basketball powerhouse team. In one of the first semifinal games in years to be played at the Araneta Coliseum, the Dolphins and the Knights contested every possession like its their last. It all boiled down to the final possession of the game, with the Knights of the offensive and down by two points. Jonathan Aldave, one of the pieces of Letran's balanced attack of the decade, let go a three-pointer at the final buzzer. It went in, and Letran extended the series to a deciding game at the Rizal Memorial, where they were upended by the Dolphins in OT, with Enrile back in the lineup, on their way to their only NCAA championship.
#4: Game 3 of the 2004 UAAP Finals: La Salle 68, FEU 65
Ateneo-La Salle rivalry? FEU and La Salle also revived their own rivalry (a rivalry one side rather downplays) in the 2000s. FEU and La Salle peaked at the middle of the decade, with two consecutive Finals match-ups. In the first, FEU and La Salle needed the full three games to arrive at a conclusion.
Game 3 was what the scalpers wanted, an epic game to end the season. It all had the ingredients of a rivalry: teams that hate each other, Anton Montinola, and rich people behaving badly. And yes, an epic game to boot, too. FEU were the defending champions, and La Salle just came from a "rebuilding" season to qualify for the Finals anew. The Tams had Arwind Santos and Denok Miranda. The Lasallians already lost Ren-Ren Ritualo and Mike Cortez to the pros. But they still had Mark Cardona, Joseph Yeo and from "their" farm team at Mendiola, JV Casio. Arwind had his usual game, but the vaulted La Salle offense kept them in the running. It all came down to La Salle's last possession with game tied at 68-all. JV Casio shot a three-pointer over an outstretched hands of an FEU defender. It went in. FEU sued for time, and on their last possession, Denok Miranda missed on a desperation drive to the hoop. The teams were still scrambling for the rebound when the horn sounded, and the Archers won anew.
Of course, due to the Benitez/Gatchalian scandal (that sounded nasty), La Salle had to surrender their championship. To the FEU Tamaraws. But still, Arwind held off his pro debut for another season because of this (see #10).
#3: Game 3 of the 2006 NCAA Finals: San Beda 68, PCU 67
Bill Velasco said, he had never seen a multitude of grown men cry, until this. San Beda was on a 28-year championship drought. Last time they were champions, martial law ruled the land. Coming into the mix in the middle of 2005 after SBC had a 0-6 start, Koy Banal led the Lions to a two-game winning streak, only to be halted by Letran in 2005. Banal didn't waver, and the Red Lions picked up the Ekwelizer from Africa: Sam Ekwe. Sam Ekwe gave matchup problems to all teams except one: the PCU Dolphins, who have a brigade of big guys not afraid to mix it up down low.
The first two games of the Finals were actually blowouts: San Beda blew out PCU in Game 1, and PCU prevented an early celebration with an ever bigger blowout in Game 2. Game 3 was seeming like an imminent crowning of the Red Lions: the Dolphins were down by 15 points at the start of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins had arguably the better roster: Gabby Espinas, Rob Sanz, Beau Belga and Jason Castro (all 4 played in the pros), but San Beda had the Ekwelizer. PCU, egged by their token contingent of fans, cut the lead to one in the final minute. San Beda turned over the ball. This was looking like the dreaded 1991 Finals versus Mapua, that shot by Benny Cheng Bedans would rather want to forget. Jason Castro had the ball, and he didn't know what to do with it, but to run out the clock and attempt at the last half-second. Castro was well covered. He passed on to Belga, who was just inside the arc -- he released the ball, missed, Yousif Aljamal grabbed the rebound, and 28 years of frustration was over. But grown men still had to cry.
#2: Game 3 of the 2006 UAAP Finals: UST 76, Ateneo 74 in OT
After an epic Game 1 and a downer of a Game 2, no one really knew how Game 3 would be like. Many people expected Ateneo to be back with a vengeance after a weak Game 2. It would be a fitting end for the collegiate careers of Macky Escalona and JC Intal, who had played second fiddle to Ateneo's 2002 championship. UST fans were just all giddy to be even playing in theGame 3 of the Finals.
So the stage was set. First quarter was close; in the second quarter, Ateneo threatened to pull away. The Tigers growled their back to the game in the second half. Down by just 5, the Tiger cause suffered a set back when rookie center Jervy Cruz fouled out. Atenean Macky Escalona was playing the game of his life, finishing the game with a game-high 28 points. In the final minute, Anthony Espiritu scored a trey, then Mark Canlas scored on a put-back. Intal missed on the other hand as the horn sounded to force overtime.
In overtime, neither team pulled away. With the score tied, Intal missed anew. Players from both teams grabbed the rebound, necessitating for a jump ball -- in this case, the possession arrow was used, and it pointed to UST. Eric Salamat fouled the former UAAP juniors MVP June Cortez; Cortez scored the first FT, missed the second intentionally. Ateneo got the rebound but they weren't able to dribble the ball near their court, causing a half-court heave. The coliseum gasped -- it missed. The Tigers are back on top.
Before #1: The rest
Before I give out the #1, lemme show other notable games of the decade, from earliest to the latest:
Fourth-seed playoff of the 2001 UAAP playoffs (NU 108, UE 102 in 2OT): NU qualifies for their still only UAAP Final Four apperance with an upset against UE.
Game of the 2001 UAAP Finals (Ateneo 76, La Salle 72)
Game 1 of the 2002 UAAP Finals (Ateneo 72, La Salle 70): Fonacier blocked Cardona twice.
Game 1 of the 2002 NCAA Finals (SSC-R 79, CSB 78): Baste finally beats CSB in the Finals. They'll later complete their conquest of the Blazers with a blowout Game 2 win.
Game 2 of the 2004 NCAA semifinals (UPHDS 58, San Beda 56): Jerome Paterno misses a gimme lay-up at the dying seconds to give Perps the Finals appearance.
Game 2 of the 2004 NCAA semifinals (PCU 85, Letran 80 in OT): With Ronjay Enrile back, the Knights weren't able to complete the improbable when he missed pressure FTs in the final minutes of OT.
Game 1 of the 2006 UAAP semifinals (Ateneo 76, Adamson 73): With the Eagles up by four, Ken Bono completes a three-point play. Chris Tiu turned the ball over, and Patrick Cabahug had the chance to win the game for the Falcons, but missed. Tiu sealed the game with insurance FTs.
Second-seed playoff of the 2007 UAAP playoffs (La Salle 70, Ateneo 69): La Salle virtually seals their Finals appearance when Ateneo shot a two-pointer rather than a trey as time expired.
Game 1 of the 2006 UAAP semifinals (UST 79, UE 75): June Cortez's three point play put the game away for the Red Warriors.
Game 2 of the 2006 UAAP semifinals (UST 82, UE 71): Another three point play, this time from Jojo Duncil, puts UST up for good; Marcy Arellano's drive to the basket cuts the lead to 1, UST turns the ball over, and Jorel Canizares misses a medium-range jumper.
Game 1 of the 2007 UAAP Finals (La Salle 64, UE 63): Despite Mark Borboran scoring a trey to tie the score, Rico Maierhofer sealed the game with a free-throw (Borboron missed a last-second trey at the dying seconds) to give DLSU a 1-0 series lead.
Game 1 of the 2008 NCAA semifinals (JRU 63, Letran 61): RJ Jazul turned the ball over for like three times costing CSJL the win.
Game 2 of the 2008 NCAA Finals (JRU 62, San Beda 60): This was the game where Jayson Nocom's jumpers were automatic.
Game 1 of the 2009 NCAA Finals (SSC-R 72, San Beda 68 in 2OT): The game where Bedans thought Calvin Abueva used performance-enhancing drugs.
#1: Game 2 of the 2002 UAAP semifinals: Ateneo 72, UE 70
You've probably still had nightmares or daydream this. Ateneo just came off the heels of preventing La Salle a 14-0 sweep, thereby giving the playoffs its usual #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 format. Ateneo was seeded #3, and they had to win twice over UE led by guys such as Ronald Tubid, James Yap, Paul Artadi, Arnold Booker and a budding KG Canaleta. Ateneo also had a stellar cast: Enrico Villanueva, LA Tenorio, Rich Alvarez, Larry Fonacier and coached by Joel Banal.
The game was hotly contested. In the fourth quarter, it was tied 70-all in the last 7.8 seconds when Artadi turned over the ball. Tenorio raced towards the other end, but Yap (who hadn't met the Atenean Kris Aquino) , who was (and still is) not known for his defense, covered Tenorio. Tenorio found Gec Chia, the intrams star that Joe Lipa didn't use that much in 2001, shook off Ronald Tubid, and released the ball over the outstretched arms of Olan Omiping. The shot went in and Ateneo booked a Finals rematch with La Salle.