JD Cagulangan reintroduced himself to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines with a performance that may be modest on the stats sheet but made a huge impact on the morale of his University of the Philippines comrades.
The hero of the Fighting Maroons’ dramatic Finals win last season checked in with over four minutes left in the first quarter.
Two minutes later he nailed an and-one trey. His presence on the court set the tone for UP to play like the same squad that toppled a giant just months back for the UAAP championship.
Sidelined by a hamstring injury that forced him to sit out the team’s first four matches, Cagulangan’s return to the state university was made extra memorable as the Fighting Maroons asserted its mastery over Ateneo de Manila University, 76-71, in another overtime classic last Sunday in the Season 85 of the men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“It feels good to be able to help the team,” he said.
“I just miss playing in the UAAP. Watching my teammates’ efforts. Even the coaching staff during practice they’re giving their all. I’m just happy I’m now a part of that.”
Cagulangan, who nailed the championship-clinching three-pointer in Game 3 of Season 84 Finals that ended UP’s 36-year title drought at the expense of then four-peat-seeking Blue Eagles, played for almost 28 minutes as a substitute for Terrence Fortea.
The veteran guard had seven points on 2-of-7 field goal shooting — all his made baskets came from outside the arc — and added seven rebounds, five assists and four steals with just one turnover for the Fighting Maroons.
His return against Ateneo was not planned at all.
It was not even for a sentimental purpose, UP coach Goldwin Monteverde clarified.
“Not at all. It’s just he’s ready for the game. Actually, we were trying to get him ready last week but we don’t want to rush things,” he said.
Although Cagulangan committed an errant pass to Carl Tamayo, who had a double-double of 20 points and 13 boards, in the waning seconds in regulation that forced overtime, he was able to make amends during the extension with his defense.
“It’s really different when we play against Ateneo. It has a championship feel to it like it’s the Finals,” Cagulangan said.
“We’re not backing down, Ateneo not giving any quarter maybe that’s the reason why the game went into overtime.”
Cagulangan, who is at 90 percent into full recovery, and the Fighting Maroons are looking at staying on top of the standings which they currently share with National University with identical 4-1 win-loss cards.
UP takes on a surging University of the East (3-2) today at the Mall of Asia Arena.