Season 82 of the UAAP was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that shouldn’t take away how historic this season was. In Basketball, we were witness to three sweeps. All of them were dominant, but each were also unique in their own special way.
Let’s Rewind back to their stories.
By Levi Verora Jr.
One thing my colleagues definitely know about me in sports coverage is that comparisons are a pet peeve of mine.
“Matthew Wright is the next Marcio Lassiter.”
“Kai Sotto is the Asian Kristaps Porzingis.”
“‘Yung ginawa ng San Miguel sa Alaska parang ‘yung sa World Series din…”
The list of absurd, irrational, unreasonable comparisons goes on. They have always peeved me. I’d rather let things play out and give athletes, teams, and feats their due credit for whatever uniqueness or greatness they have displayed — in the same way LeBron James is not the next Magic Johnson/Karl Malone/Charles Barkley hybrid but rather… simply LeBron James.
But I have ironically saved one comparison that makes absolute sense in terms of the feat itself and the never-ending parallels.
Yep, I’m talking about the juggernaut that is the National University Lady Bulldogs, winners of an unprecedented six straight championships in the prestigious UAAP Women’s Basketball Tournament.
In the process, they have won 96 consecutive games, elimination round and playoffs combined.
Such relentless dominance has basketball pundits comparing them to, of course, the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team in the United States NCAA Division I competitions.
It’s the only comparison that makes sense to me.
Since the 2000s when the Huskies sent a statement to the entire USA that they are the next great dynasty in sports, the squad has won 10 titles, including a three-peat from 2002-2004, and a four-peat from 2013-2016.
Spearheaded by tactician Geno Auriemma, who holds an all-time best college basketball winning record of 1091-142 (.885), the Huskies’ runs each year have been marked by unparalleled dominance.
With every national championship they won, they exhibited greatness, led by eventual WNBA superstars (and future Hall of Famers).
In the early to mid-2000s, it was superstar guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, steering them to three straight crowns.
Later in that same decade, eventual four-time WNBA champion Maya Moore and Tina Charles led the squad to two more rings. A few more years after, the names Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Kia Nurse, Morgan Tuck, and Katie Lou Samuelson led the charge en route to four more titles.
That decades-long reign by the Huskies as the clear-cut best women’s basketball team nationwide mirrors what the Lady Bulldogs have been doing for years now in the Philippines.
When the Lady Bulldogs won their first-ever UAAP title back in 2014, they did so in a quiet manner, with few realizing it would signal the start of their unstoppable streak.
But their women’s basketball program had it all along. With a shrewd long-term strategy in place that included great sponsorship support, recruiting smarts, and a premium on year-long training, it was only a matter of time before the ladies from F. Jhocson would start rampaging through the women’s tournament.
Much like the Huskies, they have head coach Patrick Aquino manning not only the sidelines but also the basketball program side of things. His recruiting power and connections in the basketball industry has been one of the main reasons why NU has been a preferred landing spot for the most talented lady ballers in the country.
Like the Huskies, NU’s basketball program produced the likes of Afril Bernardino, Jack Animam, Ria Nabalan, Andrea Tongco, and more. And there is no doubt the Philippine women’s basketball GOAT comes from that shortlist, just like how the WNBA GOAT conversation is a toss-up between Taurasi and Moore as it stands.
If only there was a professional 5-on-5 league in the Philippines right now, it would have been Lady Bulldogs alums stamping their class on that league.
Coincidentally, Auriemma once handled the United States national team as well and led the nation to a couple of World Championship and Olympic gold medals during his tenure. Aquino, on the other hand, called the shots for the Gilas Pilipinas Women’s squad which has won a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games, and has kept their Division I status in FIBA Asia for four years.
This is not to mention how similar Auriemma and Aquino look. From wearing the same glasses and sporting the same serious demeanors on the sidelines, to having pretty much the same coaching philosophy (father-figure disciplinarian) and training techniques.
The Huskies at one point won 111 straight basketball games, a record that will not be broken anytime soon in that side of the globe, meanwhile the Lady Bulldogs are one season sweep from doing it in Manila, which speaks volumes of how dominant the team has become in the last six years.
And just like the Huskies’ program, NU’s impact on basketball extends beyond of the UAAP.
With the way NU has raised the level of competition in college women’s basketball, more and more players have left their marks in the scene.
And at this pace, the opportunities for Philippine women’s basketball are endless.
It has only been two decades since the nation really put resources into the sport, and a few years when they really paid good attention to it. Yet Philippine women’s basketball is capable of competing with the best the world has to offer. What more if they can get significant funding?
We could have a professional league soon. We could have our first naturalized player. We could also compete in the Asian Games. More and more Filipinas may pursue the discipline unlike before.
Because just like the Huskies and the US NCAA, the Lady Bulldogs’ impact goes beyond the UAAP.
They are changing the game here forever just like their US counterparts, and this is one comparison I will never have any complaints about.