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UNTV Cup title a "happily-ever-after" ending to Senate's "Cinderella story"

Senators Joel Villanueva and Sonny Angara embrace together after Senate clinched the UNTV Cup championship.
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--As a team that didn't even win a single game last season, Senate was easily overlooked for this season's UNTV Cup.

So the team's successful championship conquest was something many may have never seen coming.

"It was a Cinderella story," said Senator Joel Villanueva, the co-captain of the team.

The Defenders' performance during the group stages was already remarkable.

Senate finished in a tie for first place in Group A with AFP at 5-1, easily putting the team to the second phase of the season.

In the crossover round, however, the Defenders went 2-2 and finished at 7-3 overall, thus falling short of an outright semifinal spot with a twice-to-beat advantage.

They found themselves in a knockout quarterfinal showdown against no less than the defending champions, the PNP Responders.

Senate, however, defied the odds and dethroned PNP, 74-66, to set up a semifinal battle against top-seeded AFP.

Needing to play another do-or-die battle, the Defenders built a 22-point lead against the Cavaliers, which was enough to hold off the latter's last gasp of eliminating the former and force a deciding match.

Then, behind a strong second half, Senate completed the giant-slaying on AFP in the rubber match, putting the former into a titular showdown with Malacanang-PSC, which like Senate overcame a twice-to-beat disadvantage in the semis against NHA.

With the Kamao entering their third UNTV Cup Finals appearance in four years, many expected them to finally bring home the bacon following two failed Finals stints.

But the Defenders lived up to their moniker in the final battle, limiting the Kamao to 33 points after the third quarter in Game 1 before settling for a 77-62 win before shutting them down in the final three quarters of Game 2 for the 84-64 clincher.

[Related Story: Senate sweeps Malacanang-PSC to take UNTV Cup title]

"Nakuha sa pagpupursige at sa pagtitiyaga. Sinabi namin sa sarili namin na next season, gagalingan at magpopokus talaga kami upang ma-execute ang system of plays ni Coach Mike [Fermin]," said Senator Sonny Angara, the team captain. "We played as a team, and I think that was the key."

Jeffry Sanders, who was known for his high-flying skills with Batangas in the MBA, was named the Finals MVP for his stellar play as one of Senate's ex-pro reinforcements.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno