UP-Ateneo Game 3 was Cinema

By Karlo Lovenia



  • the production of movies as an art or industry.

UAAP basketball tends to be more abstract art rather than aesthetic masterpiece. It’s to be expected. After all, the league is filled with college kids who are still growing into their roles as professional basketball players. These kids are bound to make mistakes. We love them anyway, because as fans, we simply cannot get tired of watching potential superstars grow.

But there are rare instances when these kids put together a masterpiece for the ages. Even rarer is when both teams work together and produce content that can best be described with one word; cinema. 

UP-Ateneo Game 3 was Cinema. And just like any good film, it was divided into multiple chapters, with individual stories that further enriched the complete end product.

Malick Diouf’s main character moment 

For most of Season 84, Malick Diouf’s been relegated to the side. He’s been an integral part of their system thanks to his size and length, but if anything, he’s felt underwhelming in the eyes of most UP fans. With every rebound and block that he made, there would be moments where he’d commit a careless fullcourt pass, or worse, lose control of the ball during a pick and roll. As one friend said so himself, “Ito yung Diouf na pinagmamalaki nila galing CEU?

During Game 3 of the Finals, we saw a different Malick Diouf for the Fighting Maroons. There would still be moments of carelessness, but for the most part, we saw a Diouf who could go toe-to-toe with potentially the greatest foreign student athlete in UAAP history. 

Tension was high and nerves were aplenty, but Diouf found a way to stand tall and dominate. He maximized his size and made life difficult for Angelo Kouame during the first half. He even disrupted Ateneo’s drives to the rim at times, stripping the ball out of their hands with his length.  Seemingly, there’s something about Ateneo and Angelo Kouame that flips the switch for Malick Diouf. 

To answer my friend, yes, ito nga yung Diouf na pinagmamalaki nila galing CEU. Solid. Steady. Clutch. Coming up big in the biggest moments. The first half was his main character moment for the Fighting Maroons. 

Finals SJ Belangel 

SJ Belangel felt caged during the entire season as he transitioned from sixth man to full-time court general for the Blue Eagles. During Season 84, we waited, and we waited. There would be glimpses of brilliance, but his game never materialized into one complete masterpiece. It turns out, he was just saving his best for last. If it weren’t for the ending of this film, Game 3 would have been remembered as the SJ Belangel game.

Right from the get-go, SJ came out as a man on a mission. During the first 14 games of the season, SJ would be satisfied with just setting teammates up and taking open shots when available. But this was different. In Game 3, he was manufacturing buckets from all circumstances; pick and rolls, uncomfortable drives to the rim, catch and shoots, everything. Belangel was showcasing the complete package in the biggest game of the season.

Most importantly, he was showcasing the clutch gene during the biggest game of the season. This was who Ateneo was missing after losing Thirdy Ravena to graduation. Who could be their flip the switch guy? Who could turn their game to another level when the Blue Eagles are pushed to the limit? Maybe it was Dave Ildefonso. Angelo Kouame was the easy pick. In Game 3, we were witness to the correct answer: it’s SJ Belangel.

SJ Belangel is THAT dude. Remember his name. He’ll be out for blood the next time Ateneo is put into a critical situation again.

Oh Captain, Mamu, My Captain 

Gian Mamuyac had some big shoes to fill coming into Season 84. Not only did he have to replace Adrian Wong as Ateneo’s chief wing player, but he also had to replace the leadership of Ateneo legend Mike Nieto. 

This was brand-new territory for him. During High School, he was never groomed as THE guy of the program. That went to the Jolo Mendozas and SJ Belangels of the world. Now in the Seniors division, he was expected to lead the way for the four-peat-seeking Blue Eagles.

It wasn’t a smooth journey, especially during the Finals. In Game 1, he couldn’t get the Blue Eagles to settle down during the overtime period. Game 2 was a tad different as he made critical defensive stops to secure the win for the Blue Eagles. 

Game 3 was a mixed bag again for Mamu. There would be moments of brilliance with his defense, but his offense lagged at times. But mixed bags don’t matter anymore during the clutch. In that time, what matters is the moment. It’s cliche, I know, but in a game of that magnitude, it boils down to the players who are willing to grab the game by its throat.

Gian Mamuyac nearly grabbed the game by its throat.

Off two sweet assists, Gian Mamuyac hit two monster threes during the overtime period to put the Ateneo Blue Eagles up by 5. At that moment, the missed rotations, the shot clock violations, all of the mistakes were forgotten. What mattered was how the captain of the Blue Eagles grabbed the game by its throat.

It was what we wanted from Mamu when he was named Team Captain. It was what Mamu gave us during his final game as a Blue Eagle.

Big Shot Cagulangan

It’s easy to just talk about THAT shot. How can you not? It’s arguably the biggest shot in UAAP modern history; a masterful finish to a story that truly deserves a coffee table book. But limiting the discourse around JD Cagulangan to just that shot feels like underselling his true value. Even without that bucket, Cagulangan should go down as a top-notch UAAP point guard of this era. It wasn’t just in the Finals where he stepped up, this went on this entire season.

In the middle of Ricci Rivero’s polarizing performances and Carl Tamayo’s brilliance was JD Cagulangan’s steady playmaking. UP hasn’t had a playmaker this good since Marvin Cruz (apologies to Jun Manzo and Mikee Reyes, probably, please don’t call me out in the Shoot First pod). Not only could he pass the rock with the best of them, but his sheer control of the game was close to best in the league levels. It takes a lot of talent to control a team this loaded as a point guard. JD Cagulangan has that talent.

That’s not to say he was perfect during the Finals, because even during some critical moments of Games 1 and 2, JD lost control of the Fighting Maroons. It happens to the best of them. Game 3, however, was a different story. With UP facing a five-point deficit, Cagulangan went on a run that spelled destiny.

With the shot clock running down, he hoisted up a three from the right wing which hit nothing but net. 69-67. Call it luck, call it destiny, whatever. The Fighting Maroons suddenly had a chance. 

On the next possession, after big misses from SJ Belangel and Angelo Kouame, Cagulangan called for a pick and roll with Malick Diouf. Ange and SJ blitzed, and it was an easy dish for JD. Malick slammed it home. 69-69. Nice. That play was a perfect microcosm of JD’s playmaking brilliance.

Then, the moment that will be talked about for decades to come. After a Dave Ildefonso brick, JD called for the basketball and ran down the clock. These are the moments that kids dream of when they play by the street.

Clock running down. Ball is in your hands. The moment is yours.

JD gets the Malick pick, Mamu gets hit. JD gets separation, and he steps back and kisses himself. 

Swish. JD grabbed the moment. The moment was his. This wasn’t abstract art, this was a masterpiece. This was cinema. 

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