Best of PH collegiate basketball in 2023: New kings and queens

Best of PH collegiate basketball in 2023: New kings and queens

/ 09:00 PM December 28, 2023

La Salle, San Beda and UST: the teams that made it to the top of the collegiate basketball mountain in 2023

La Salle, San Beda and UST: the teams that made it to the top of the collegiate basketball mountain in 2023. –MARLO CUETO/ART

MANILA, Philippines—This year saw the collegiate basketball scene crown new heroes. From the NCAA to the UAAP, new kings and queens were heralded as the best in their respective divisions.

Take a look back at Inquirer Sports’ wrap-up on the bizarre and wild seasons that were the UAAP Season 86 and NCAA Season 99.


De La Salle Green Archers are champions again

La Salle Green Archers celebrate UAAP Season 86 men's basketball championship.

La Salle Green Archers celebrate UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball championship. –UAAP PHOTO

For two consecutive seasons, the final stage of the UAAP was graced by only two names: Ateneo and University of the Philippines.


La Salle, which hasn’t tasted the league’s title in over seven years, barely peeked at the grandest stage for a while.

But when coach Topex Robinson took the position of head coach for the Green Archers, the Taft-based squad did a full 180 turn back to relevance.

From missing out on Season 85’s Final Four, La Salle was dealt with little to no pressure to exceed expectations but that’s exactly what the boys in Green and White did.

After going on a tear in the elimination round, Robinson kept his “love, serve and care” mantra to heart and willed the Green Archers to the Finals.

Though they lost the first game in quite an embarrassing fashion, the Green Archers kept their trust in their new mentor’s system which saw them win two straight games against a Fighting Maroons team that was expected to win it all.

“Losing Game 1 by 30 was really challenging for us but I just told them we need each other, we got this far and we just can’t give up,” said a composed Robinson. “I’m just so grateful that they responded to the challenge… Actually, I was embraced by the La Salle values, which is faith, service and communion.”

Kevin Quiambao La Salle UAAP Finals

Kevin Quiambao.–MARLO CUETO/

But it wasn’t just Robinson who helped push La Salle back to the top of the mountain. A huge chunk of the credit should be given to sophomore Kevin Quiambao, who won both the Finals and season MVP awards.

In that scintillating series against UP, Quiambao posted averages of 14.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and two blocks after three games.

His excellence on the court gave La Sallians a few concerns and thought he would jump to the pros right away.

Fortunately, the star big man assured the Green Archers faithful that he would stay in La Salle for one more year.

“After constantly consulting my family and friends, we’re excited to run it back and try to make it B2B (back-to-back)!” wrote Quiambao in an Instagram post a few weeks ago.

So with the MVP staying put, one question remains. Will La Salle keep the same dominance they had in 2023 come 2024?

San Beda wins the most unexpected title yet

Yukien Andrada San Beda Red Lions NCAA

San Beda Red Lions during Game 3 of the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball Finals.–NCAA PHOTO

The name San Beda has always been synonymous with the word “winners” in the NCAA. That, sadly, hadn’t been the case for the Red Lions in recent years.

After losing to Letran in the Season 95 Finals, San Beda seemingly lost its splendor and dominant roar in the country’s oldest collegiate league.

For one, Evan Nelle switched sides from Mendiola to Taft. Then San Beda missed the Finals in Season 97, followed by a Final Four elimination in Season 98.

So when the preparations for Season 99 came, not a lot of eyes were focused on the Mendiola squad.

After all, this squad had already lost the services of stars James Kwekuteye and JB Bahio. Not to mention that coach Yuri Escueta was still quite green in terms of coaching a college squad.

Despite being dominant in recent years, nobody expected San Beda to make the playoffs, much less winning the chip.

But with the help of Jacob Cortez, Yukien Andrada and James Payosing, San Beda did the unthinkable—no matter how weird that sentence may sound to the usual NCAA spectator.

The Red Lions looked down the barrel of elimination quite a few times in the first and second round of the tournament. But after a slow start, San Beda turned into a very different team in the playoffs, beating a Lyceum team that held a twice-to-beat advantage.

Things never got easy for the Red Lions. They had their backs in the walls again after absorbing a Game 1 loss at the hands of favorite Mapua. That didn’t seem to pose a problem for Escueta’s wards, though, as they showed that unwavering San Beda spirit in the next two games.

Defense wins championships and Escueta knew that to be true. So that’s exactly what he did.

“I told them to play defense like demons. Defense will be the thing that will make us win here and that’s what I told them. We have pride in our defense. Defense wins championship,” said the top mentor after their championship-clinching win.

UST Growling Tigresses end a dynasty

UST Growling Tigresses celebrate UAAP Women's basketball crown.

UST Growling Tigresses celebrate UAAP Women’s basketball crown. –MARLO CUETO/

For seven long seasons, National University stood atop the mountain of women’s basketball with no one coming close.

Until University of Santo Tomas did the unthinkable and plunged the championship streak down the drain with a shot that’s been rehearsed oh-so many times in the past.

In the rubber match between the Growling Tigresses and the dynastic Lady Bulldogs, the score was tied at 69-all in the dying seconds until graduating guard Nikki Villasin ran a fastbreak and sealed the game-winning layup.

“Honestly, it just got really quiet. It was like me and the basket and I saw my teammates, they gave me a quick look and I scanned the floor. I was like, ‘If I make this, it’s over,’” said Villasin.

“Right when it went through the hoop and I looked back, I was like, ‘oh my God, we just won.’ Because I knew we were going to play defense, I had no doubt about our defense.”

But Villasin’s shot was more than just to win the game and the Season 86 trophy.

It was, quite literally, shot NU down after years and years of dominance. It was an easy deuce that solidified coach Haydee Ong in the Mount Rushmore of women’s basketball coaches.

It was also a shot that sent UST to the basketball map for 2023 despite its men’s counterpart being cellar dwellers.

The Growling Tigresses’ victory was also the sweet, sweet cherry on top for Tantoy Ferrer, who took home the Finals MVP award.

For Ferrer, breaking an empire like NU wasn’t the mission. It was to deliver her promise to coach Ong that she would not leave the University without giving her honor.

“I told myself I won’t leave UST without a championship that I can give you,” Ferrer told Ong during an emotional post-game conference after Game 3 of the Season 86 women’s finals.

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And deliver on that promise, she did, as she leaves UST with a lasting legacy that saw the rise of a team not named the Lady Bulldogs—for a change.

TAGS: De La Salle Green Archers, NCAA Season 99, San Beda Red Lions, UAAP Season 86, ust growling tigresses

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