"Are we going to lose? Not today, not today."
This has been Jack Animam's mantra over the course of preserving the unblemished streak of the NU Lady Bulldogs, who are heavily favored to win it all again this year and even in the years to come.
Invincible since Season 77, the four-time defending champions are simply on a class of their own. In close to five seasons of maintaining a flawless slate, the team has produced some of the finest players that the country has seen.
It was just fitting that they etched their names in the UAAP history books for blazing a trail. On Saturday, they notched their 74th straight victory at the expense of the UST Growling Tigers. Nobody else in the league across all sports has reached this remarkable feat.
How the Lady Bulldogs handled the pressure-packed days leading up to the record-setting game was beyond impressive. Costly errors, unlucky breaks, and out-of-control circumstances could have easily snapped the winning run. But throughout the journey, they remained confident of what they are capable of achieving as a collective unit.
"As long as we're together, no one can beat us," said team captain Ria Nabalan, who has the rare opportunity of wrapping up her five-year collegiate career undefeated if things pan out.
"Even if the game is close, I don't think of losing," added Animam, the reigning league MVP. "As long as we keep fighting, as long as our pride is there, we will soldier on until the end."
During team dinner Friday night, the players talked about their overwhelming feeling of excitement. The NU community, including the big bosses and former members of the squad who took part in building the streak, has been waiting for this make-or-break moment.
Come game time, the girls from Sampaloc were hungry and relentless. They accelerated from the get-go and never slowed down. They torched the hoop and continued to pounce until the lead ballooned to as high as 44 points. They only stopped when the final buzzer sounded and the scoreboard read 96-57.
"Every game, we treat it as a championship game, especially this game," said Animam. "We heard a lot of comments that we were going to lose, but I told our team that we got this. As long as we stay together, no one can beat us, just ourselves."
"I hope women's basketball here in the Philippines will get more attention." NU Lady Bulldogs coach Pat Aquino
This huge milestone was not the ultimate destination for the five-peat hopefuls. They will continue to seek uncharted territory, collecting more Ws and trophies in the process. After all, keeping up with the unbeaten tradition was more than just shattering records for the Lady Bulldogs.
"It really means a lot, not only for the NU community and for NU women's basketball, but for the whole women's basketball itself," said head coach Pat Aquino, who also mentors Perlas Pilipinas.
These women show up on the court to prove that they are skilled basketball players. They may not get the same kind of support that their male counterparts receive, they may not have professional leagues to play on once they graduate, but here they are, fighting for the love of the game.
"I hope women's basketball here in the Philippines will get more attention," Aquino continued. "I hope this is something like a starter for everybody, that hopefully these girls who are really working hard for it will be given a chance to prove themselves."
The fourth-year Animam, a member of the national team, has always been very vocal about the need for more exposure and opportunities for female ballers in the country. She knows how difficult it is to generate awareness toward the women's side of the sport that Filipinos are known to be crazy for.
"I'm wishing and hoping that even if the women's games are not televised, at least the weekly highlights will be shown," she said. "In that way, people will be enlightened that women's basketball exists. At least people can appreciate us, and maybe, support for women's basketball will eventually grow."
Banners, flags, and caps with "74-0" written on them were passed around after the Lady Bulldogs' historic win. With a multi-titled coach, a top-notch sports program, and several talented recruits in the pipeline, one might wonder: how much longer can the team excel and dominate the league?
"I can't say until when the streak would last," said Animam. "But I can assure you, this will reach more than hundreds. Watch out for it."