How Important is Game One?

(Writer’s Note: All record references are from 1994, the year the UAAP began to adopt the Final Four format)

In a few hours, we will all be witness to the historic 3rd UAAP finals confrontation between bitter rivals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers, since the Final Four format was implemented. The rivals are even in their record in the Finals against each other. The Green Archers won over the Blue Eagles in 2001, while the latter exacted revenge over the former in 2002. It will take only two victories to earn the championship, which makes the first win an-all important one. And by Sunday night, we will all know who has drawn first blood. But how important is it to take the first game? At this point, let me adopt the famous (or infamous) style of the controversial Philippine Star columnist Quinito Henson.

Since the Final Four format was implemented in the UAAP in 1994, the team who won Game 1 went on to win the championship, in 10 out of the 14 seasons (1994-2007). Interestingly, half of those ten times were courtesy of De La Salle (’98, ’00, ’01, ’04 and ’07).

Seven teams who won the first game of the Finals went on to sweep the series. 3 of which are the Green Archer squads (’98, ’00 and ’07). The others were the Dale-Singson-led UST squad in ’96, and the FEU Tamaraws in ’97 when they were bannered by Ronald Magtulis and in ’03 and ’05, during their Arwind Santos era.

The Green Archers Striking first

In their 12 previous finals appearances, the Green Archers got the first taste of the pie 7 times and in 5 of those 7 times, the famed Green Archers had the pie all for itself. It should be pointed out that the couple of times that DLSU lost the championship after winning Game 1 was against their erstwhile tormentor, the UST Growling Tigers—in ‘94 and ‘95, the first two years of the infamous “Bridesmaid Era” of the Green Archers. However in 1999, the tables were turned as the Green Archers copped the championship crown despite UST winning game 1 of the finals series.(This was the only time that La Salle won the UAAP basketball crown, despite losing Game 1)

Thus, it would appear that post “Bridesmaid Era”, that is after 1997, La Salle always wins the UAAP top plum, when it wins game 1. Will this record continue or will this be broken? We’ll know by next week.

How about the Ateneo?

Prior to this season, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have been in the finals of the UAAP, 3 times and in those 3 times, they won Game 1 twice (in ‘02 and ‘06). It was in ’02 that they won the championship at the expense of the Green Archers, and as stated, they won the first game of the series in that season. However, the story was different in ’06, the year DLSU was suspended. After winning Game 1, the Blue Eagles suffered a heartbreaking championship loss against the younger UST squad.

But when their opponent wins game 1, the Blue Eagles seemed to get intimidated and gives up the crown. This happened in 2001—and yes, it was against the Green Archers.

Game One and the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry.

In the two times ADMU and DLSU met in a UAAP Championship, both series went to the full extent. But more telling is that, whichever team wins game 1, wins the series. The Ren-Ren Ritualo-led La Salle squad won game 1 in 2001 with a 74-68 thumping of the Blue Eagles, while the Enrico Villanueva-led Blue Eagle squad, won game 1 in 2002 with a close 72-20 win.

So going back to the question, how important is it to win game One? All I can say is that it is a must-win for DLSU.