LookBack: NU rises but falls short
MANILA, Philippines -- It was a banner year. But it also ended in tears.
National University came into Season 75 with much anticipation. After all, the six-foot-one juggernaut we also know as Dindin Santiago will finally suit up for the Lady Bulldogs after two years of residency. Jen Reyes, the die-for-the-ball libero, is also back in the fold. Myla Pablo has seemed to have made the leaps expected of her. Aiko Urdas heads to Sampaloc after a stellar showing in the Palarong Pambansa. And Cai Nepomuceno looked bent on going out with a bang.
Everything looked to go according to plan. Except for the errors.
NU was a darkhorse contender whom many pundits anticipated will give perennial contenders a run for their money. And with a talented roster at coach Franz Vicente's behest, there was no questioning that the Lady Bulldogs have the quality to go all the way to the finals.
Except for the errors.
Averaging almost 40 errors in their six elimination round losses, NU wasted a lot of chances to go higher in the standings, eventually settling for fourth after beating University of Santo Tomas in a playoff, barging into the semifinals for the first time since the Final Four was instituted in 1994.
The Lady Bulldogs finally solved their erratic ways in the postseason, but it was too little, too late as Nepomuceno and Pablo's guns fell silent in their one-sided Final Four loss to De La Salle University.
Best: Individual performances. Dindin Santiago. Jen Reyes. Cai Nepomuceno. Aiko Urdas. Myla Pablo. The Lady Bulldogs dazzled the UAAP with some of the best individual performances of the tournament, with Santiago finishing second in scoring and Pablo topping the Best Attacker race despite a second-round disappointment.
Back in the league, Reyes raked in awards once more, leading the UAAP in digging and excellent receptions as she proved to be the lone defensive ace in NU's brittle backrow. Urdas might be a shoo-in for the Rookie of the Year award, too, what with her rocket-like attacks giving opponents problems right in her very first year in the league.
Worst: Erratic team play. Despite all the brilliant individual performances, the Lady Bulldogs almost failed to qualify for the Final Four? Why so? The blame could be put on the lack of chemistry among teammates who were specifically put together for this run.
There was no clear-cut leader, a heart and soul for a talented crew like NU. Santiago was a mean attacking and blocking machine, Pablo, Urdas and Nepomuceno were solid spikers and Reyes was unarguably the best libero in the UAAP. But when push comes to shove, all these individual talents could not shine as one as the Lady Bulldogs' title drought stretched to 56 years.
Twin towers: NU will lose both Nepomuceno and Reyes to graduation, spelling doom on a defense that was shaky all season long. But coach Franz Vicente has been one of the best recruiters in the past couple of years (netting Palaro scoring machines Pablo and Urdas) to let the duo's loss ruin their title bid in Season 76.
Coming in is Santiago's younger sister, the six-foot-four Jaja, who will team up with Dindin to guard the net for the Lady Bulldogs. Attacking from the wings will still be Pablo and Urdas, with Mina Aganon, who was solid in their last three games, likely to be promoted to the starting lineup. - Rappler.com