Historic and controversial
For all intents and purposes, it was supposed to be that the Southwestern University (SWU) Cobras asserted their dominance over the rest of the region.
With a revamped squad that featured two new imports, stellar veteran pick-ups and the acquisition of former Ateneo and La Salle guard, Mark Jayven Tallo, all signs pointed to the Cobras hoisting their second title in as many years.
SWU was already halfway there when the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers suddenly put a monkey wrench to all their plans en route to winning their 10th title in the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (Cesafi) men’s basketball tournament.
And boy, did UV capture the crown in historic fashion as they came all the way back from a 0-2 deficit in the championship series, becoming the first team in Cebu’s collegiate basketball history to achieve the feat.
Fresh off winning a first title in the school’s history in the Cesafi, the Cobras were quick to reload. With Ben Mbala gone to La Salle, SWU’s brass also decided on adding two new reinforcements in the energetic Landry Sanjo and the hulking Fabrice Siewe.
The cherry on top was, of course, the return to Cebu of the enigmatic Mark Jayven Tallo, a former Cesafi juniors MVP who has had stops with the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers in the UAAP before deciding to come back home to Cebu.
All those moves paid dividends as they rattled off 14 straight wins, five of which coming against the Green Lancers who seemingly could not solve the puzzle that SWU posed.
But just when all was bleak and dark for the proud nine-time champions, UV took a step forward in what would be the pivotal moment in the fiery clash between the bitter rivals.
Down 0-2 and facing an 11-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining in the contest, the Lancers staged a daring comeback and forced two overtime sessions before eventually emerging triumphant, 89-82. With the monkey off their backs, the Green Lancers steadily found their rhythm and flow and tied the series up at 2-2 with a 71-66 win in Game Four to set the stage for the winner-take-all Game Five.
The deciding game lived up to all the hype as it went down the wire in spite of all the technical difficulties that delayed the game by more than two hours. In the end, it was oft-ridiculed power forward Wowie Escosio who delivered the telling blow as he made a putback with 0.7 of a second remaining that gave the Lancers a stirring 64-62 win.
But while the men’s competition had fitting finales, the juniors division did not even come close to the finish line as their tournament was suspended in the semifinals as a result of the civil case that was filed against the league by Danny and Avah Aying, the parents of the disqualified player from the University of San Carlos, Scott Aying.
Meanwhile, the Cobras did not have to wait too long to gain revenge as they defeated the Lancers, 68-60, in the finals of the Southern Islands Championship of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) to book for themselves a spot in the Final Four. There, the Cobras made waves as they made it all the way to the finals before succumbing to the UAAP champions La Salle Green Archers.
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