Winners of 80 straight, NU Lady Bulldogs aim for loftier goals

When the history of Philippine basketball is written, there most certainly must be a chapter on the National University Lady Bulldogs.

At the end of their UAAP Season 81 campaign, the team had accomplished the unfathomable: going undefeated in 80 games on their way to five straight championships. No other UAAP team, in any sport, has done this. The closest was the Adamson Falcons' softball team which won 73 straight earlier in the decade, a record the Lady Bulldogs broke earlier in the season.

To put things in perspective, the longest winning streak in the PBA is a mere 21, set by the legendary Crispa Redmanizers in 1983. The longest in the NBA is only 33, courtesy of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

Other collegiate teams have won at least five straight championships, but none of them did so in the dominating fashion displayed by NU. In their five finals appearances, they vanquished their challengers by an average margin of 16.5, 26.0, 13.5, 19.5 and 9.0 points. Overall they have won those 80 games by an average of over 20 points. Two players, Ria Nabalan and Jhianne Layug, will finish their UAAP playing careers not knowing what it feels like to lose a game. Suffice to say, the seven other teams have been battling for second place all these years.

Think about it. Eighty straight wins. When was the last time you heard about anybody winning 80 straight in anything? As the decade draws to a close, the Lady Bulldogs are certainly in the conversation for Philippine sports team of the decade, just as their coach, Patrick Aquino, should be in consideration for Philippine coach of the decade.

"Wow, an amazing run and I never imagined making history," Aquino told ESPN5 the day after their title-clinching win over the FEU Tamaraws. "I'm just happy for the school and the community. I'm also thankful for having a wonderful people around me in doing this. My players old and current, coaching staff and managers."

Aquino, also currently the head coach of the national team Perlas Pilipinas, is the architect of this dynasty and oversaw the overhauling of the NU women's basketball program. He was brought in as a consultant in Season 74, when the team last finished with a losing record of 4-10, before taking over the coaching chores in Season 75. They had a decent season, going 7-7 and just missing the Final Four.

"We started from scratch," Aquino recalled. "We had to recruit from the provinces and watch who can fit into our system. We got the best (players)."

In Season 76, they were primed to win it all for the first time and finished tied with DLSU at 12-2 after the eliminations. But the Lady Archers, whose own women's basketball dynasty preceded NU's, captured the crown, beating the Lady Bulldogs, 69-61, in Game 3 of the finals on October 5, 2013.

It was the last time they would taste defeat.

On July 12, 2014, the Lady Bulldogs beat the UST Tigresses, 62-46, to open their Season 77 campaign. It was also the start of their winning streak, and they haven't looked back since.

Despite their double-digit average winning margin, there have been some close calls. In just the second game of the streak, the Adamson Lady Falcons nearly toppled them but they hung on for a two-point win. No other team has come that close since. There were also close brushes over the years against DLSU, FEU and UE, but somehow they always pulled through in the end.

Sometimes, Aquino admits, the streak takes its toll. "The hardest part is thinking that there will be a time this will end someday," he says, "so you have to play your best at all time and prepare yourself for all challenges."

The next challenge, of course, is to win it all again next season and push the winning streak even further.

"Our next goal is to get our sixth championship and along the way with luck on our side (still) be undefeated," said Aquino, who also reached a personal milestone this season with his 101st win as Lady Bulldogs coach.

Then beyond that, there's the magic number of 100 straight wins, which would happen in the fourth game of Season 83. Aquino admits they have talked about that, as well as another loftier goal.

If they go undefeated over the next two seasons, it would put their streak at a staggering 112-0. That would give them seven straight championships, which would tie the UE Red Warriors of Baby Dalupan for most in UAAP basketball history, while also shattering another hallowed mark.

"The UConn record of 111 straight wins," Aqunio said, referring to the winning streak set by the University of Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team in the US NCAA. "It's there for the target but let's just say we will play it one game at a time."