NU feeling pressure to win in crucial stretch for Final Four

MANILA, Philippines – Like the doors of Alice in Wonderland, the door of opportunity is rapidly shrinking for the defending champion National University Bulldogs in UAAP Season 78.

The men’s basketball champions sank to 3-5 after dropping their first game of the second round, 52-47, against the UE Red Warriors, and head coach Eric Altamirano is feeling the sense of panic rumbling inside the team. 

"This game there’s already a sense of urgency. It’s a tall order for us," he admitted. "The door’s getting smaller for us." 

It was an ugly loss for the Bulldogs, who shot a horrible 28% all game long. They also missed all 9 of their attempts from long range and, despite the presence of import Alfred Aroga, were out-rebounded by the all-Filipino line-up, 54-43. 

The loss to UE also revealed a critical weakness for NU – the entire team can fall apart when Aroga is offline. Altamirano admitted it was a serious issue they’re trying to address as the 6-foot-7 center, who averaged 13.6 points and 12.7 rebounds in the first round, is the focal point of the Bulldogs’ offense.

"The others just have to step up. It’s very big for us because we don’t have a legitimate center outside of Alfred,” he said, further explaining that for the second straight game they could not click offensively despite their best efforts on defense. "We’ll find ways in our next games to try and solve that."

Aroga, who finished with a team-high 11 points, 9 rebounds and two blocks against UE, missed the entire second half after an inadvertent elbow to his upper eye that needed stitches. He returned with 5 minutes remaining in the game but it was too late. 

"I admire him for coming back into the game," Altamirano said. "We just have to move on and try to improve our offense."

Currently leading the league are the UST Growling Tigers and the FEU Tamaraws. NU is lagging behind tied for 5th place with UE with only 6 games remaining.

The Bulldogs take on a tough test in the 6-1 Tigers on Saturday, October 17.

"We’ll continue to prepare for the games and play as hard as we can and see from there," said a hopeful Altamirano. "At least it’s still in our hands." –