For National University, the magic number is 2

Jane Bracher
For National University, the magic number is 2
With the Tamaraws on the brink of winning their first title in 9 years, mastery of the art of playing comfortably in pressure-packed games will be of great help to NU

MANILA, Philippines – National University head coach Eric Altamirano wrote the number “2” on a white board after they defeated University of the East for the right to compete in the Final Four. 

The Bulldogs earned a fourth seed which meant they must overcome top seed Ateneo Blue Eagles not once but twice to achieve their 3-season long goal of making the Finals. 

The mission was as clear as the black marker on the white board – there’s no stopping until those two wins were in the bag.

Altamirano got through to his young wards. And two play dates later, mission accomplished. They made history simply by being in the Finals. 

Two would still be the magic number for NU in the Finals against Far Eastern University. They must best the Morayta crew twice in order to fully carve their place in Bulldogs history. 

But after a dampening Game 1 defeat, now, the number 2 has returned bearing the same weight and pressure as it did in the Final Four. This time, unlike when they came into Game 1, NU once again won’t have the leeway to commit errors. On Wednesday, October 8, it’s win or go home. It’s succeed or fail. It’s do or die.

“That sums us up,” Altamirano remarked. “This will be our fourth do-or-die.”

Cameroonian center Alfred Aroga believes the Bulldogs made it to this point because they had “puso” or heart and sheer determination.

“Like we say in Filipino, ‘puso’, we just gave our best and not regret,” he said after winning the second game in the Final Four. “We really played with heart and really pushed each other.”

He may be right. But after 3 straight must-win games heading into the Finals, have the Bulldogs run out of gas?

Altamirano hopes not. 

“We have no choice. We are put in this situation and the most important thing is we give it our best.” 

Mental fatigue, according to the coach, was a huge factor in the team’s Game 1 loss. 

“I think it was more mental fatigue, I felt they were expending (plenty of energy),” he explained, noting that the same fatigue made his players shoot just 15-of-31 free throws in the game.

“I told the boys they were too emotional. Their emotions got in the way.”

(LIVE BLOG: FEU vs NU UAAP Finals Game 2)

Physically, the Bulldogs are an enduring bunch, trained to stay with their man and defend to a T. Their team-first mentality, deep rotation, and reliable off-the-bench guys give key players ample rest and keeps everyone fresh throughout the game. 

But playing with their season on the line, fighting back the fear of going through another disappointing, bitter exit, and withstanding the pressure of meeting expectations and goals for 3 straight times is exhausting.

In fact, Altamirano was blunt that his team didn’t show their will to win, at least in Game 1 as they lacked a sense of urgency, their energy sucked out due to the grind. 

“I felt FEU wanted it more than us. That’s what we didn’t show (in Game 1).”

Despite facing a twice-to-beat disadvantage against Ateneo, the Bulldogs managed to win two straight. Photo by Josh Albelda

However, Altamirano hopes 4 days of rest, preparation and mental conditioning will revive his team and they could manage to align their objectives once again and, hopefully, it’ll translate on the court on Wednesday for Game 2.

“Itong team na ‘to hindi ‘to bibigay,” he declared. “Lalaban ‘to.” (This team won’t give up. They will fight.) 

He hopes his team has not grown too accustomed to walking the tight rope and navigating must-win situations.

But with the Tamaraws on the brink of winning a title 9 years after their last, mastery of the art of playing comfortably in pressure-packed games will be of great help to NU.

A little pep talk and the right motivation here and there could also do the trick for the Bulldogs seeking to put an end to their 60-year men’s basketball title drought.

These Bulldogs have shown glimpses of matured character sprinkled throughout the season. They’ve shown immense resolve when push came to shove, and found ways to stick together amid rattling situations.

This time, they face a new test to their character as they hope to bring the fight to FEU, and at least extend the series to a Game 3 before concentrating on winning all the marbles.

Two is the magic number for NU once more. They have the tools. And though exhausted, they still have the opportunity to take the series. The real question now is do they still have two more do-or-die games left in them? –

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