MANILA, Philippines – The National University Bulldogs put away the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, 75-64, on Wednesday, September 10 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum as they refused to be victims in a spoiling party by the ousted Tigers in the men’s basketball tournament of UAAP Season 77.
The Bulldogs pulled through despite the pile-up of 22 turnovers – which allowed UST to get 17 points off it – as they assured themselves of at least a playoff for a Final Four slot in a very tight race this season.
“It was a sloppy game for us, I wasn’t really happy with how we played, but a win is a win,” NU head coach Eric Altamirano said. “We needed this win badly.”
The Bulldogs rediscovered their identity in the second half as they buckled down defensively after allowing the Tigers to shoot 42% of their field goals in the first 20 minutes of play, which resulted to the Tigers leading by as much as 10 points.
The second half told a different story for the defensive minded Bulldogs, especially in the payoff period where NU held down the now 5-8 Tigers to just 10 points, while they poured in 17 to pull away for good.
“It’s a good thing that we were able to regroup, get ourselves together. We started very slow, very lethargic but overall we committed too many turnovers. The press bothered us a lot,” Altamirano pointed out his team’s shortcomings in this game.
“It’s a good thing that even if we make mistakes we still try to focus on our defense. And somehow, some way we were at least able to limit them from scoring.”
Five Bulldogs finished in double figures with Gelo Alolino leading the pack with his 14 points to go with 3 boards and 3 dimes.
Reden Celda and Glenn Khobuntin chipped in 13 and 12 markers, respectively, coming off the bench, with Khobuntin doing damage on the boards as well with 9 rebounds.
Nico Javelona stepped up with 11 points while Troy Rosario wound up with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds. Rosario beefed up his statline with 5 assists as well.
“We’ve always told the team that our bench must step up and I’ve been saying this ever since we started that for us to win it has to be a collective effort,” Altamirano said. “Talagang kailangan namin ng tulong ng bawat isa (We really need each other’s help) since we don’t have that much power compared to the other teams.”
For UST, Karim Abdul led the way with 15 points, 9 rebounds, two assists and 5 steals while Ed Daquioag and Henri Subido contributed 13 and 11 points, respectively.
With the win, NU rose to a 9-4 win-loss slate and tied the De La Salle Green Archers in the standings. They clash in a very crucial game on Saturday where the winner will automatically secure a playoff for the second seed with the twice-to-beat advantage. That playoff will be against the loser between the Ateneo Blue Eagues and the FEU Tamaraws, also on Saturday. The winner of the Ateneo-FEU game will automatically take the top seed.
Meanwhile, the UE Red Warriors have their fate in their hands as they only need to win their final elimination game against UST on Tuesday to at least get a playoff for the last Final Four slot. Should UE win, they will playoff against the loser of the La Salle-NU game. If they lose, they’re out of the Final Four.
The various playoff scenarios can easily put pressure on players and force them to look at the fates of other teams. But Altamirano is not having any of that for his squad.
“I reminded the boys that we run our own race,” Altamirano explained how he’s conditioning his team. “What’s important is we take care of our own business and we’ll just see from there.”
“Right now we don’t want to worry about other teams. We just want to focus on our game.”
NU (75): Alolino 14, Celda 13, Khobuntin 12, Javelona 11, Rosario 10, Diputado 5, Betayene 4, Aroga 4, Perez 2, Alejandro 0, Atangan 0.
UST (64): Abdul 15, Daquioag 13, Subido 11, Mariano 9, Vigil 7, Sheriff 4, Lao 3, Pe 2, Basibas 0, Faundo 0, Gayosa 0, Lo 0.
Quarter scores: 18-19, 40-37, 58-54, 75-64.