Top 10 UAAP basketball and volleyball stories in 2015

UNFORGETTABLE. Championship seasons by Ateneo and FEU plus a coaching carousel are just 3 of the top 10 UAAP stories in 2015.

UNFORGETTABLE. Championship seasons by Ateneo and FEU plus a coaching carousel are just 3 of the top 10 UAAP stories in 2015.

MANILA, Philippines – Collegiate sports is always one of the most anticipated events in the Philippines every year. It’s during that time of the season when school spirit is at its peak, and where rivalries and competition are most fierce. As one of the two main collegiate leagues, the UAAP often provides moments and memories to last a lifetime, and 2015 was no exception.

Once again, the UAAP played a major role in society with action-packed games at the arenas which also reached homes across the country and set social media ablaze.

Here are the top 10 stories from the two biggest sports of the UAAP - basketball and volleyball - in 2015:

FINALLY ON TOP. Ateneo makes UAAP history. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

FINALLY ON TOP. Ateneo makes UAAP history.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

Ateneo de Manila University dominated the volleyball tournaments of the UAAP in 2015, but while their women’s team was expected and favorited to triumph anew, the men’s squad came as a bit of a surprise.

Led by the 33 points of Marck Espejo, Ateneo defeated two-time defending champion National University in 4 sets, 23-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-15, on March 7 to make history. 

The title-clincher was the cherry on top of the sundae of a season for Ateneo where they topped the eliminations with an 11-3 record and beat Adamson in the Final Four. Moreover, their second-year sensation, Espejo, won his second straight MVP award, and was named Best Attacker.

CHAMPS AGAIN. NU reigned supreme in women's basketball. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

CHAMPS AGAIN. NU reigned supreme in women's basketball.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

You know what’s more impressive than a perfect season? Two straight perfect seasons.

That’s what was accomplished by the historic National University Lady Bulldogs, who swept all of their 16 games in UAAP Season 78 to win another women’s basketball title and push their winning streak to 32 games.

Led by both league and finals MVP Afril Bernardino’s 18 points, 17 boards, 3 steals, and 3 blocks, NU blew out Ateneo 75-55 in Game 2 of the finals to finish their march toward the record books in dominant fashion. 

UP FIGHT. The Maroons opened their season 2-0. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

UP FIGHT. The Maroons opened their season 2-0.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

8. Finally going UP

There was no more popular event during the opening of the 2015 UAAP men’s basketball tourney than the hot start of the UP Fighting Maroons, which after going just 1-27 in their past two seasons, won their first two games against UE and La Salle.

Yes. — Did UP win today? (@didUPwintoday) September 5, 2015

While the win against the Red Warriors was also celebrated, it was really the victory against the Green Archers that had UP faithful in a celebratory mood, due to preseason expectations of DLSU being a title contender, which prompted some to believe UP had a shot at making the Final Four.

Unfortunately, the Maroons ended the rest of their season going just 1-11 to finish at 3-11. It turns out the victory against La Salle was nothing to celebrate too, as the Green Archers turned out to be the biggest bust in the basketball tournament.

Nonetheless, there was still some progress. UP’s team now also has better backing, a coaching staff that is dedicated to improvement, and a roster that has just 3 players graduating. Continuity is key when it comes to developing college basketball programs, and the Fighting Maroons are progressing towards that.

EXPERIENCE. The multi-titled head coach will be the new mentor for the Soaring Falcons. File photo by Naveen Ganglani/Rappler

EXPERIENCE. The multi-titled head coach will be the new mentor for the Soaring Falcons.

File photo by Naveen Ganglani/Rappler

7. The coaching carousel

There were 3 UAAP men’s basketball teams that hired new head coaches moving forward, and each university obtained big-name mentors that will make the league’s roster of head coaches for next season top-notch.

In a development that stole the thunder of the UAAP men’s basketball finals’ first game, De La Salle University agreed with former Letran head coach Aldin Ayo to be the new head coach of the Green Archers - just two days after the school officially announced the resignation of Juno Sauler.

Then over a week later, Adamson University announced its new head coach - Franz Pumaren - a 5-time UAAP champion who used to call the shots for La Salle. It didn’t take long for Pumaren to temper expectations, as he said during a press conference that Adamson’s mission is to win a championship.

And if those two hirings weren’t attention-grabbers, Ateneo officially named Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin as the Blue Eagles’ next head coach days later.

With the announcement of each new head coach, the reaction on social media and in the UAAP community was palpable. Adding to that, expectations for next year’s men’s basketball tournament have increased, making the wait for September 2016 insufferable.

CO-MVPs. Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Ferrer both had stellar final UAAP seasons. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

CO-MVPs. Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Ferrer both had stellar final UAAP seasons.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

The race for the 2015 UAAP men’s basketball MVP award was close, with Ateneo star Kiefer Ravena barely edging out UST star Kevin Ferrer, 69.5 statistical point to 67.36, to win his second straight MVP award.

But just because one guy came out on top in the numbers battle, that didn’t mean both deserving players did not get the chance to shine under the spotlight. 

In what was an unconventional but sportsmanlike move, Ravena asked Ferrer - a close friend of his - to join him in lifting the league MVP award together during the league's awarding ceremonies, much to the delight of the UST, Ateneo, and UAAP communities.

“But doing that is just more than the award, it’s the companionship and friendship we shared all throughout being great competitors and just wanted to help our schools win,” Ravena said in his press conference after about his long-time rival and buddy since high school.

EXCRUCIATING. Ara Galang's injury came at the worst time for La Salle. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

EXCRUCIATING. Ara Galang's injury came at the worst time for La Salle.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

On March 7, 2015, the De La Salle University Lady Spikers earned a victory which was the paragon of bittersweet. La Salle beat the NU Lady Bulldogs in 4 sets to advance to the UAAP women’s volleyball finals again, but in the process lost its best player, Ara Galang, to injuries.

Galang, who was rushed to Makati Medical Center after suffering a fall near the end of the game against NU, tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), Medical Collateral Ligament (MCL), and medial meniscus, plus suffered a big bone bruise.

The former UAAP Rookie of the Year in 2012 and co-MVP in 2013 needed 8 months after the injury to recover.

Her absence was pivotal, as La Salle was swept by Ateneo in the finals, making it two straight years the Lady Spikers fell to their rivals in the championship round.

STAR PLAYER. Mac Belo was a force on both ends of the floor for FEU. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

STAR PLAYER. Mac Belo was a force on both ends of the floor for FEU.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

A little over a year after making his unforgettable game-winning 3-pointer against La Salle in the 2014 Final Four, Belo converted another momentous game-winning shot by converting a put-back layup in the dying seconds of his team’s Final Four victory against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

It’s crazy to think how similar the two situations were. FEU was the #2 seed against #3 La Salle in 2014, and it was the #2 seed against #3 Ateneo in 2015. Both times, Belo hit shots as time expired. Both also happened at the same venue - the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. 

Besides cementing his legacy as one of the most clutch players ever in UAAP history, Belo also gave graduating Ateneo players like Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal an excruciating end to their college careers.

And a few weeks later, Belo helped make sure FEU would close the deal for good.

EN FUEGO. Kevin Ferrer was at his absolute best in the third quarter of Game 2. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

EN FUEGO. Kevin Ferrer was at his absolute best in the third quarter of Game 2.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

The FEU Tamaraws won the 2015 UAAP men’s basketball tourney in 3 games, but truth be told the series may have be done in Game 2 if not for Kevin Ferrer’s unforgettable performance.

On the same day Ravena asked him to hoist the MVP award together, Ferrer scored 24 points in the third quarter of the finals game - the most in a period since the UAAP started having stats handled by Imperium in 2003 - to finish with 29 points and 10 rebounds.

The third quarter explosion mainly consisted of contested, in-your-face triples Ferrer was shooting with absolute ease. By the time he hit his fourth 3-pointer of the third period, ABS-CBN Sports + Action play-by-play man TJ Manotoc had screamed “you gotta be kidding me!”

Manotoc said the same thing when Ferrer hit his fifth triple of the period, and then yelled out “My goodness” by the time the UST star’s sixth 3-ball went in.

By the time the fourth quarter started, UST had turned a 30-21 deficit into a 47-41 lead thanks to Ferrer and his hot streak that will always live in college basketball lore.

BACK ON TOP. FEU ends a 10-year drought by overcoming UST in the finals. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

BACK ON TOP. FEU ends a 10-year drought by overcoming UST in the finals.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

Unfortunately for Ferrer and UST, the Tamaraws bounced back in Game 3 to win their 20th UAAP title and first in 10 years.

The title victory was especially sweet for FEU, which made the finals of the UAAP in 2010, 2011, and 2014 but lost each time, and was close to losing again as UST took a 59-53 with 3:42 left in the contest.

Unfortunately for them, FEU responded with an 8-1 run to take a 61-60 lead and never looked back en route to the title.

Mac Belo, who was fighting cramps in the third game, came away with the Finals MVP thanks to averages of 17.3 points and 10.7 rebounds a game. Belo also spent majority of Game 3 guarding Ferrer, who was limited to 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting.

NO STOPPING THEM. The Lady Eagles flew past the entire competition in UAAP Season 77. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

NO STOPPING THEM. The Lady Eagles flew past the entire competition in UAAP Season 77.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

Speaking of perfection, that’s exactly how UAAP Season 77 went for the Ateneo Lady Eagles, which swept all 16 games they played and won the championship for a second straight season.

It was clear from the get-go that Ateneo was at a level above their peers during the season, and displayed that supremacy in the finals against La Salle anew.

Adding to that, Alyssa Valdez was named league MVP for a second straight year and also bagged the Best Scorer and Best Server awards.

The graduating Denden Lazaro, on the other hand, took home the Best Libero award on top of a second straight ring. – Rappler.com