It’s going to be the top dog against the hottest team in the league for all the marbles.
The second seed De La Salle University unleashed a third quarter surge that third-ranked National University could not recover from, taking a lopsided 97-73 victory to arrange a title duel with University of the Philippines in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 86 Men’s Basketball Finals with a nine-game winning streak last Saturday at the SMART Araneta Coliseum with 11,242 fans in attendance.
This was also the Green Archers’ first time in the title series since Season 80 back in 2017, where they lost to rival Ateneo Blue Eagles in three games. They last won it all the year before.
Game One of the best-of-three Finals will be on Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City while Game Two will be on December 3 at the Big Dome. If the series goes to a deciding Game Three, it will be played on December 6.
The Green Archers and the Fighting Maroons split their head-to-head in the eliminations.
“We came into this game knowing NU will throw everything at us. Coach Jeff and the rest of the coaching staff really did a tremendous job for them to be here and we just tried to remind everybody that we are gonna go to the Finals because we are gonna go get it, not to be given to us,” said head coach Topex Robinson, who is aiming to join the likes of Franz Pumaren, Juno Sauler, and Aldin Ayo as first-year Green Archers coaches to steer the school to the top.
And the Green Archers showcased their absolute depth that led them to sweep the entire second round during a third quarter blitz.
Francis Escandor, Evan Nelle, Raven Cortez, Kevin Quiambao, Jonnel Policarpio, and Mark Nonoy all had a hand in the Green Archers’ storm that turned a slim 47-40 lead into a 70-46 one-sided affair with 52 seconds remaining in the third period.
Nonoy, who reached the Finals as a rookie for University of Santo Tomas in 2019, also played a key role in De La Salle’s second frame that enabled them to take a 45-36 halftime lead, scoring his first 13 points there, finishing with 20 points built on four three-pointers.
“we are so happy and blessed to be in the Finals. We really need to focus against UP,” said Quiambao, who provided 17 points and eight rebounds while also being a plus-23 in his 30 minutes and 26 seconds on the floor.
Nelle did it all with 15 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and two steals while Mike Phillips was in his usual energizer role with 10 rebounds, with six coming off the offensive end, while also contributing 11 points, four assists, and three steals.
The Green Archers also got crucial contributions from Escandor and Policarpio with nine points apiece.
NU had no momentum heading into this Final Four matchup, losing their last two elimination round games against lower-ranked Adamson University (68-62) and UP by 22 (79-57).
It was the exact same fate the Bulldogs experienced last season, suffering three straight defeats to close their campaign.
NU ended the tournament in third place for the second straight season.
Jake Figueroa led NU with 19 points and nine rebounds, graduating Mike Malonzo added 13 points and eight rebounds, while Kean Baclaan delivered 12 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
Patrick Yu and John Galinato also played their last game for NU.