MANILA, Philippines—Two weeks ago, Jack Animam had to watch via livestream as the National University Lady Bulldogs wrapped up a sixth consecutive perfect season in the UAAP.
The Lady Bulldogs played without their star center in the Season 82 finals, sweeping University of Santo Tomas two stretch their legendary winning streak to 96 games, and clinching an unprecedented "six-peat." At the time, Animam was still in New Zealand, recovering from an orbital fracture that she suffered during the 2019 FIBA Women's Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
NU made do with a cutout of Animam, and then gave her a champion's welcome when she finally returned home. But missing the championship series gnawed at Animam, who has been the cornerstone of the Lady Bulldogs for the past couple of seasons.
There was one thing that fueled Animam: the women's basketball competition of the 30th Southeast Asian Games will be held at Mall of Asia Arena, the same venue where the Lady Bulldogs clinched their crown.
"Every day, sabi ko sa MoA gaganapin 'yung SEA Games. Two weeks ago, nandito 'yung collegiate team ko kung saan nag-champion sila without me," Animam said on Thursday night.
She scored six of her nine points in the pivotal fourth quarter to help the Gilas Pilipinas women overcome Indonesia, 63-56, in their first game of the competition. Animam also had 12 rebounds, and helped force Indonesia's veteran center, Sophia Gabriel, to seven turnovers.
The win brought the Gilas women one step closer to their goal of a breakthrough gold.
"Parang gusto ko din ma-emulate 'yung nagawa nila without me sa Gilas women's," said Animam. "Gustong-gusto kong mag-gold para sa lahat ng taong sumusuporta sa amin."
"Gustong gusto naming makuha itong SEA Games ngayon."
Animam is still not at 100%. She played with a protective mask over her face, though she said she is no longer in pain. What's important, she said, is that she does her job to make sure that the Gilas women can pile up the wins in the four-nation tournament.
"Hindi ko na iniisip na may injury ako. Parang kinalimutan ko na na meron akong injury," she said.
"Basta ako, binabalik ko lang kung ano 'yung tiwala na binigay sa akin ni Coach Pat (Aquino), kung bakit ni-line up pa rin niya ako in spite na 'yun nga, nagkaroon nga ako ng injury," she added.
"Ginagawa ko lang 'yung trabaho ko sa team na 'to."
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