Part 3: The 2K Decade Recap – 2002
For most of us, this year, which started out with so much promise, ended up as a disappointment in more ways than one. What everybody anticipated to be another glorious season turned out to be a sad ending of a dynasty.
At the start of the season, expectations were high for the Green Archers. Even without top gunner Ren Ren Ritualo who had already moved up to the pros, the team still had veterans Mike Cortez, Willie Wilson, Adonis Sta Maria, BJ Manalo and previous year’s rookie sensation Mac Mac Cardona. This season also saw the emergence of high-flying sophomore Joseph Yeo as a regular part of the team’s guard rotation. Joining the team were guard Tyrone Tang and forwards Martin Urra and Jun Jun Cabatu.
This time around, the Green Archers were tagged as the favorites to romp away with the title, which would have been their 5th straight. And why not; in addition to the loss of key personnel, other teams, particularly the Blue Eagles were hampered with injuries to their regular stalwarts even before the season started. The Red Warriors were considered as the team with the most intact lineup, but they have never made it to the Final 4 in the previous two seasons despite having basically the same players. Experience and talent-wise, the Archers had the edge on paper.
The promise of the Green Archers’ lofty pre-season billing looked like it would become a reality as they thrashed the opposition from day one of the tournament. A true testament to their dominance was when they overcame an 18-point deficit in the final 5 minutes in a game against UST and still came up victorious in overtime. Going into the final game of the elimination round against Ateneo, La Salle was 13-0 and all signs indicated a possible sweep and an outright ticket to the finals. Besides, the Green Archers had convincingly defeated the Blue Eagles in their first round match-up.
Alas, the Archers failed to sweep the eliminations and eventually their aura of invincibility was pierced by Ateneo as they headed to the latter stages of the tournament. That first loss thus set a stage for a Final 4 semis wherein the Archers was still seeded number 1 with UE being the other team with a twice-to-beat edge. La Salle easily disposed of UST in the series while UE confirmed the doubts about the Warriors’ mental toughness as they bowed to Ateneo. The finals was a repeat of the Green-Blue title series of the previous year.
The memories of their lone defeat in the eliminations seem to have hounded the Archers as they lost Game 1. They were able to bounce back in Game 2 but in the deciding game, they were not able regain their composure as they suffered from several bad breaks in the end game to yield the championship to the Blue Eagles. Ateneo thus wins their first seniors title since 1988 while La Salle ends their 4-year championship reign.
It was such a disappointing ending to what many though would be an amazing year for the green and white squad. What compounded the woes was that all their defeats and broken streaks were at the hands of their greatest rival.
Jun Jun Cabatu
Adonis Sta Maria
Mac Mac Cardona