When I discovered that CJ “Baby Beast” Perez suddenly disappeared from Ateneo’s Wikipedia roster, I panicked. I soon found out that Ateneo would likely lose six of its rotation players to ineligibility in the span of one summer, and prized recruit Perez, who was to be the next Calvin Abueva, would likely leave the school without even playing his first game. That was a very rough time to be an internet sports junkie and an Ateneo fan.
And yet, here we are. Fast-forward to this week, Perez’s Lyceum Pirates—fresh off earning an 18-0 regular season sweep—are currently locking horns with a gutsy, unyielding San Beda Red Lions in the Finals. The Pirates lost their first game in the best-of-three series, and are now unable to reach an unprecedented 20-0 overall record.
Ateneo is also unexpectedly on the verge of capping off a potential 14-0 elimination sweep. Despite its roster’s implosion, Coach Tab Baldwin managed to craft an effective team identity fast enough to win a buttload of games despite not having a dominant superstar.
Will Lyceum carry their momentum towards a championship despite the road bump? Will Ateneo achieve their own sweep? Would they even want to?
Here are some of the other teams from the NCAA and UAAP who have achieved the same feat over the years, along with their quirks and cautionary tales.
The first recorded sweep in UAAP history came in 1980, when league rules dictated that any team who would win all 12 of their regular season games would automatically be declared champion—effectively making the winning path easier for truly dominating teams.
Fresh from beating the UST Glowing Goldies for the title in 1979, the FEU Tamaraws would wreak havoc across the league twice en route to consecutive 12-0 seasons until 1981. The Turo Valenzona-coached FEU team would pummel rookie Allan Caidic and his UE Red Warriors to earn a back-to-back eliminations sweep along with their first championship three-peat, with Anthony Williams earning MVP honors.
It wasn’t until 1993 when UST would exact their revenge in the most appropriate fashion, but it would do so with the arrival of an iconic change in UAAP basketball—the introduction of the Final Four format.
THE GOLDEN SWEEP
CJ Perez could have easily handed SSC-R Golden Stags another milestone to their history had he stayed—but Lyceum’s recent success doesn’t take away anything from the Stags, who practically invented the NCAA sweep when they first achieved it in 1988.
The Stags probably couldn’t even fathom how much they actually had when they recruited a young Paul Alvarez in 1985. The star rookie from University of Manila High School immediately helped the Stags win their second title in the NCAA. Alvarez would then have his feet wet in the Jones Cup, the SEA Games, and the ABC (now FIBA) Championships, not unlike what a typical college superstar today would experience as a premiere Gilas Pilipinas cadet.
In 1988, Alvarez would finally join MVP Eugene Quilban in demolishing the competition in two rounds, achieving a 10-0 regular season slate, the first recorded sweep in NCAA history. Similar to the UAAP, the NCAA then automatically rewarded perfect seasons with the championship. Alvarez fought through an epic NCAA rogue’s gallery consisting of Vergel Meneses (Jose Rizal College) and Bong Hawkins (University of Perpetual Help System DALTA) en route to a perfect season, slowly but surely earning his fated “Mr. Excitement” moniker.
It didn’t take long for the Stags to rebuild and pursue another perfect run. Super rookie and 6’6” behemoth Rommel Adducul helped the Stags achieve their second 10-0 sweep in 1994 alongside MVP Rodney Santos.
The Stags’ third and final sweep would not come easily, as rules were changed to no longer give the bracket winner the outright championship.
The twice-to-beat advantage was instituted to give dominant teams a significant, but less extreme advantage. In 1997, on the cusp of the historic five-peat, the Stags would bulldoze through the entire season on a 12-0, riding the shoulders of Adducul, Ulysses Tanigue, and Brixter Encarnacion, who proceeded to beat San Beda to earn their third sweep. Back-to-back MVP Adducul collected an Mbala-esque 20 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game.
THE FINAL FOUR FIASCO
The UAAP Final Four format was first introduced in 1993 but with a caveat—a rule stated that if a team sweeps the eliminations, the Final Four bracket would no longer apply, and the team with an unblemished record after the double round elimination would be automatically handed the championship.
Led by former PBA favorite Dennis Espino and legendary coach Aric del Rosario, UST would go on a 14-0 rampage, sweeping the regular season and immediately prompting the sweep clause—thereby bypassing the Final Four outright and winning the championship.
The league saw this stipulation as a loophole and outdated, and opted to remove the automatic championship rule the following season. In its stead, teams that sweep the regular season would now advance straight to a best-of-three Finals.
This effectively made it harder to win championships even for the most dominant teams in the UAAP, and brought about the familiar (and arguably fairer) Final Four format that we still enjoy today.
THE RED WARRIOR RULE
The 2007 UE Red Warriors have long since served as the cautionary tale for sweeps in the UAAP. Despite carrying a stacked roster featuring Marcy Arellano, Mark Borboran, James Martinez, Elmer Espiritu, and a young Paul Lee, the Warriors went on to lose the championship despite collecting an unbeaten 14-0 record in the regular season with an average winning margin of 16 points.
UE’s team had everything: size, grit, length, and tons of shooting—however, a perfect storm of small discrepancies ultimately conspired against them.
For their 14th and final regular season win they had to beat the La Salle Green Archers, who put up a very good fight. Despite a cameo by Bryan Ilad’s fist, UE ultimately prevailed, albeit with a glaring asterisk on how DLSU drove them to the brink.
La Salle and Ateneo were then tied for second seed, and FEU and UST were tied for the third seed. What followed was a complicated series of tiebreakers to first determine seedings. These tiebreakers stretched on and created schedule problems for Araneta Coliseum; in the end, UE waited 21 days to finally play their championship game. The combination of rust, loss of competitive familiarity, and the mental edge La Salle had after winning consecutive high-risk games ultimately led to the battering of UE, ending their championship hopes with, ironically, a 2-0 sweep.
To prevent this scheduling glitch from happening again, the UAAP drafted a rule stating that the 14-0 team would have a thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals while the contender could only afford to lose once.
However, in response to the disparity of competition between schools in 2016, the thrice-to-beat rule had since been rescinded, and the best-of-three Finals was again installed.
THE RED LION REIGN
NCAA would not see another sweep until 2010. By then, the league had stopped awarding automatic championship to a sweeping team, installing the best-of-three Finals format as well.
The San Beda Red Lions achieved the rare sweep in 2010, a team bannered by the monolithic Sudan Daniel, a sharpshooting Garvo Lanete, and basketball swiss army knife Borgie Hermida dismantled the competition, finishing with a convincing 16-0 sweep. Game 1 featured Hermida, who registered 18 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists, while the second game featured a dominant Daniel who collected 24 points and 19 rebounds.
This feat becomes even more impressive given that San Beda had to beat the Sultans of Sweep themselves: the Stags—featuring no less than the Calvin Abueva-led Pinatubo Trio comprised of Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual.
THE FALLEN PIRATE RISES
The Lyceum Pirates now share an eerily similar history with UE: both teams went through the regular season unscathed, both waited 20+ days to play their championship, and both lost Game 1 of the Finals.
There are still huge historical implications hanging over CJ Perez, Mike Nzeusseu, and Coach Topex Robinson’s perfect 18-0 record. With the Pirates’ recent loss to San Beda, they are now at risk of becoming one of the rare teams in shared UAAP and NCAA history to achieve an eliminations sweep and lose the championship.
The same pressure applies to Ateneo, who faces an admittedly tougher battle by having to beat the defending champs De La Salle Green Archers to score a perfect record. Also, in case the two make it to the Finals, the Blue Eagles have to beat the Archer two more times to win the title. With Ben Mbala’s dominance looming on the horizon, this would be much easier said than done.
These next few days will most certainly determine whether these teams will reach the pantheon of perfection and enjoy the championship they deserve, or be forever marked as a unfortunate footnote in collegiate basketball history.