IT’S been more than a decade ago, but the memory of the last UAAP men’s basketball Finals encounter between University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle remained etched in the mind of coach Aric del Rosario.
The 1999 UAAP season marked the last time the Tigers and Archers fought for the championship in a compelling rivalry that marked the nineties.
Del Rosario was then the coach of the Espana-based squad, which he already led to four straight titles from 1993-96, and was in a position to capture another one against a familiar rival in the Green Archers.
Undefeated in three Finals matchups (1994-96) against the men in green, Del Rosario seemed poised to sustain his perfect slate as the Tigers won Game One of the best-of-three series on the game-winning basket by guard Angelo Velasco.
But in an unexpected turn of events, the Archers recovered in the next two games to ultimately bag the trophy, capped by an overtime victory in the deciding Game Three behind the heroics of Don Allado and Dino Aldeguer.
It marked the last time the Tigers made the Finals under the watch of Del Rosario, while the title was the second of the Archers’ own four-year romp under coach Franz Pumaren.
Fourteen years later, UST and La Salle face off once again in collegiate basketball’s biggest stage starting with Game One on Wednesday.
And Del Rosario, now trying to bring the same winning tradition to University of Perpetual Help in the NCAA, believes the current brood of Tigers have the materials as well as the coaching acumen of Pido Jarencio to exact revenge on the Archers.
“Maganda rin `yung (pag-handle) ni Pido sa mga players,” Del Rosario said, adding one thing UST must sustain is its defense that shackled and frustrated former two-time MVP Ray Parks in the Final Four.
“Sinasabi ko sa nga sa kanila na ‘hindi ka dirty player, pero kailangan ng konting pisikal, konting gulang, konting siko. Pero wag ka mananakit.’”
The thought of becoming the first fourth seed to win the title and winning their first championship in seven years are already enough motivation for UST.
Payback against the Archers can also get the Tigers pumped up.
“Darating pa rin yun nangyari dati. Syempre mag-iisip rin yan,” Del Rosario said.