Roaring NU not letting up in quest for title

MANILA, Philippines -- Now perched atop the UAAP 76th men’s basketball tournament standings, the National University Bulldogs are not taking things lightly as the season approaches its homestretch.

Riding high on a 5-game winning streak, the Season 75 losing semifinalists are coming off a big 81-73 win over the University of the East Red Warriors last week, one that propelled them to first place in the standings for the first time this year.

Asked if they will slow down a bit against lowly University of the Philippines on Wednesday, September 4, Bulldogs head coach Eric Altamirano said that there will be no letting down against any team.

“We’ll not overlook any game, we have to value every game. We need to have a sense of urgency in every game in this eliminations to be able to reach our target,” Altamirano said after their victory against Boycie Zamar’s boys.

Target: Twice-to-beat edge

And that target – according to the former Fighting Maroon who steered the Diliman crew to the crown in 1986 – is taking a twice-to-beat edge in the semifinals.

“We’re happy but we’re not contented, kailangan mag-trabaho pa kami,” shared Altamirano. “The goal eh to get the number one or two for that twice-to-beat advantage.”

NU, however, still has its hands full as the Bulldogs are yet to face 3rd-seeded La Salle and 5th-placed Ateneo. But with how things are going so far, NU looks more and more the contenders that they are.

SILENT OPERATOR. Mbe is a constant double-double machine who plays with no frills. Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

SILENT OPERATOR. Mbe is a constant double-double machine who plays with no frills. Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

Against UE, Jean Mbe and Bobby Ray Parks powered the Bulldogs with 18-point performances. Not only that, the tandem combined for 21 rebounds, both of them finishing with a double-double.

“We’re taking it one game at a time, I never talked about it to our team, we just want to focus in the game so if it happens, it happens,” said Altamirano about the possibility of reaching their target after the eliminations.

Momentum is the key

NU, after winning just 4 games in the first round, are now enjoying a stirring run that includes victims like La SalleUSTFEU, and of course, UE.

“I tell my players it’s hard to get momentum. We’re just taking advantage of this momentum. Stay humble, you’ll never know. Sometimes, you lose one game, then for all you know it, nag-slide ka na. We just want to take advantage of this momentum,” the soft-spoken NU mentor said.

Although they beat a Red Warriors squad without Charles Mammie and Lord Casajeros, Altamirano admitted that their last win did not come on a silver platter.

“They really played their hearts out, they played with a lot of emotion, they kept the game close. In fact, I thought we’re gonna have a run but nakabalik sila and it’s a good thing na nung fourth quarter namin, we had our rally and we were able to pad that lead for a comfortable margin.”

PLAYMAKER. Alolino's playmaking has done wonders for NU. Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

PLAYMAKER. Alolino's playmaking has done wonders for NU. Photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

Overcoming hardships of their own

He further stressed that NU, even prior to start of Season 76, is missing the services of big man Alfred Aroga, who the UAAP deemed ineligible to play this year.

“All throughout the summer league we expected Aroga to play but because of what happened to his eligibility, it somehow affected our rotation,” admitted the former UP Fighting Maroons coach.

But against a relatively smaller UE side, Altamirano capitalized on Aroga’s absence.

“I think we were able to adjust and find ways to cover that up (height disadvantage). The best thing for us is to really go small. Without Aroga, we have no choice but to go small.”

With only 3 games left in their calendar, another trip to the post-season is just around the corner for Altamirano and his boys. But 3 is just a number and the NU mentor knows it.

“Overall, it’s not always about being first but it’s about really improving every game and making sure that we stay focused and we stay together." - Rappler.com