AFTER seven years of long wait and despair, the De La Salle University Green Archers are now back as the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball champion in Season 86.
Season 86 Most Valuable Player Kevin Quiambao and Evan Nelle played true to form in the deciding Game 3 of their best-of-three championships series, beating University of the Philippines (UP), 73-69, to claim the crown before the 25,192 record-breaking crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this amazing group of guys. Also, we have to credit the coaches who came before me and built this team. They have done a tremendous job and I’m so grateful,” La Salle first year head coach Topex Robinson said.
He joined an elite list of La Salle coaches that won the title in their first year consisting of Franz Pumaren, Juno Sauler, and Aldin Ayo.
This was La Salle’s tenth title in league history and its first since Season 79.
Quiambao was amazing in all fronts, firing 24 points in addition to his nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks to lead the Green Archers. Nelle added 12 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals, and a block.
Jonnel Policarpio — who only played three minutes and 26 seconds in Game 2 — came up huge with eight points in just seven minutes and 11 seconds. Graduating Mark Nonoy also had eight points while Mike Phillips grabbed 16 rebounds halved along with five points, four assists, and two steals.
After trading basket after basket, the Green Archers overcame a 63-67 deficit as Nelle and Quiambao joined forces in crunch time by hitting a triple followed by the do-it-all forward’s go-ahead basket and two free throws to snatch the advantage back, 70-67 with 4:02 left.
UP collapsed in the remaining moments of the game, only allowing Francis Lopez’s to narrow the gap to 69-71 with 2.5 ticks to go. After being fouled by UP’s Reyland’s Torres, Quiambao sank both charities to peg the final score as the final buzzer sounded.
“It’s just our mindset to leave everything on the court since it’s going to be a no-tomorrow Game 3,” said Quiambao, who averaged 14.66 points, 9.33 rebounds, 2.33 assists, and 2.0 blocks in the series that reached the distance.
“It’s win or go home for us, but it’s a good feeling now. After many doubted us in the first round, here we are as the new UAAP champion.”
Quiambao became the first individual in the men’s division to win both Season and Finals MVP in the same season since Arwind Santos did it in Season 68 in 2005 for Far Eastern University.
Joaqui Manuel, Francis Escandor, and Ben Phillips will also leave La Salle as champions.
Malick Diouf left his all in his final game with 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and collared 14 rebounds.
Lopez chipped in 12 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three blocks, and three steals, while Harold Alarcon had 10 points.
CJ Cansino had also played his final game in a Maroons jersey.
It was a championship to remember for the Green Archers, as they suffered the worst Finals loss in the Final Four era in the opener, 67-97, last week before forcing a sudden death game to tie the series in Game 2 by bouncing back, 82-60, and winning the series in Game 3, 73-69.