The first two games of the best-of-three finals series of the 86th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament were lopsided affairs.
The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons made history by posting by largest Finals winning margin in the Final Four, 97-67, in the opener before the La Salle Green Archers leveled the series with a 22-point rout, 82-60.
After the Green Archers won the championship last Wednesday, season and finals MVP Kevin Quiambao said memories from past championships that the Green Archers and coach Topex Robinson went through were inspired him to shine in Game 3.
It was Robinson’s failed championship bids with the Lyceum Pirates in 2017 and 2018 that were recalled before the start of Game 3, while Mac Cardona’s efforts to lead La Salle to the 1991 title on his rookie year also inspired the 6’6” Quiambao.
“Iyung mga pinagdaanan ni coach na hardships. Knowing na galling siya sa Lyceum, na dalawang straight na finals siya na natalo, talagang dinibdib ko iyun,” said Quiambao, after the Green Archers pulled off a 73-69 title win over the UP Fighting Maroons last Wednesday.
The 22-year old Quiambao recalled the story that from 2015 up to 2019, Robinson spent his time molding a good Lyceum Pirates squad.
The Pirates placed ninth in its first two years, before unbeaten for 18-games in the eliminations, and losing to the Red Lions twice in the fight for the championship on his third year.
The Pirates, under Robinson, still had a good run in 2018 when they once again made to the finals against the Red Lions, and another runner-up honors.
In 2019, the Pirates were impressive, making it to the finals, settling for second place behind the Letran Knights.
“Dinibdib ko iyun. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, hinding hindi na puedeng mangyari iyun. Kung nandiyan siya sa likod, kailangang nandiyan din ako sa likod niya,” added Quiambao, who used to play with Goldwin Monteverde as his coach while still in high school.
Quiambao was originally recruited to suit up for the Lyceum Junior Pirates, and play for them in the NCAA junior cagefest, after he was noticed at a barangay league in Muntinlupa.
But, Quiambao did not make the cut for two years, and spent time with Team B. During this time, Coach LA Mumar made efforts to develop his game.
Season 86 became a memorable campaign for Robinson on his first year as the La Salle’s coach, as he worked on a talented crew led by the 6’8” Quiambao, a leader of a point guard in Evan Nelle, and a fired up support group spearheaded by Michael Philips.
The Green Archers won nine games from the eliminations to the Final Four, before suffering their worst Finals loss in the Final Four and title opener before winning the next two games.
Their good fortunes gave Robinson the confidence that he can steer teams to the championships, leaning on the duo of Quiambao and Nelle to allow the Green Archers to stand their ground against the Fighting Maroons.
Quiambao, who was at the heart of the Green Archers’ finals campaign, said he also drew inspiration from a call from former Green Archers’ star cager Mac Cardona after they took their biggest setback in Game 1.
“After Game 1, I spoke with Kuya Mac Cardona. Knowing the ups and downs of his career, I was happy to get encouraging words from him. Thank you, kuya Mac! I love you!” said Quiambao.
It was Cardona’s one-handed hook shot that inspired Quiambao’s way of playing basketball.
And it was the hook shot which Cardona used in leading La Salle to the 2001 crown.
“For sure, [I idolize him] because when I was in high school my one-hand shot was inspired by Kuya Mac Cardona,” said Quiambao in Filipino. “I’m thankful that I received those encouraging words from him.”
Cardona is also a former UAAP Rookie of the Year like Quiambao.
Quiambao contributed to La Salle’s Game 2 win with nine points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks, and this equalized their series with UP with an 82-60 blowout last week.
The 22-year old was also named Finals MVP after their Game 3 triumph and his performance of 24 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and two blocks.
Cardona, who received his 2001 championship ring before the Finals series, watched and cheered at the venues throughout the series, and inspired Quiambao to be at his best.
In 2016, Quiambao found his way into the roster of the Nazareth School-National Bullpups, where Monteverde, who was heading NU’s high school program that year, accepted him, and developed his game further.
It was a memorable campaign. With Monteverde as coach, the Bullpups met Ateneo in the Season 81 Finals of the UAAP juniors.
In Game 1, Quiambao had 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead NU to the win. With Carl Tamayo, they joined for 29 points and 25 rebounds and held Ateneo’s star center Kai Sotto to just 16 points.
In Game 2, Quiambao had an all-around performance of eight points, six boards, five assists, and two blocks, and NU won the juniors’ championship for the first time since 2016.