Defending UAAP champ NU gets first win over UST
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) — It could have been a nightmare for a basketball head coach: With the game on the line, a 6-foot-7 center takes a looping jumper close to the 3-point line.
But this time, it was not, and one mentor is grateful for it.
Big man Alfred Aroga hit a shot he was taught never to make, and it became the game-winner as defending champion National University earned its first victory at the expense of previously undefeated University of Santo Tomas, 55-54, in the men's basketball tournament of UAAP Season 78 on Saturday, September 19 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Aroga drained the unlikely high-looping 17-foot fadeaway go-ahead basket over the outstretched hand of Karim Abdul with 14.7 seconds remaining, for the slim one-point lead that gave the Bulldogs its first victory in 4 games.
"Alfred played a hell of a game," NU head coach Altamirano praised his ward. "Although I didn't like that last shot of his. We always tell him not to shoot those kinds of shots but that type of shot is all heart for Alfred. He wants to win."
The Cameroonian import was the only Bulldog in double figures with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and a block. Aroga churned out that performance after enduring food poisoning and a couple of hospital trips before the team's game against University of the East on September 12.
"Alfred had to go through a lot in our first 3 games," explained Altamirano. "He lost a lot of weight but I'm happy he was able to regain his strength in this game."
JJ Alejandro and Nico Abatayo chipped in 9 and 8 points, respectively. Veteran guard Gelo Alolino quietly made his mark on the game with 9 rebounds, 9 assists, and a steal even though he only had two points on a miserable one-of-12 field goal shooting.
"We're very thankful for this first win," Altamirano said. "We had to go through a lot in the first 3 games but the boys were very positive coming from that Ateneo loss, and they vowed a comeback this game. I think it's very evident they played with a lot of heart."
It was indeed a hard-earned comeback victory for the Bulldogs as they overturned a 7-point Growling Tigers fourth quarter advantage, thanks to immense patience late in the game.
NU squandered an 8-point lead in the third as UST went on a 15-0 run bridging the third and fourth periods to take a 48-41 edge with 7:09 to play.
But NU slowly chipped away at the lead as big man Aroga finally converted the team's first field goal midway in the final frame.
The momentum steadily shifted to the side of the Bulldogs and they re-captured the lead, 53-52, on an Aroga basket with just over a minute to go.
Ed Daquioag nearly became the hero for UST with his crucial steal from Alolino that led to a fastbreak lay-up for the 54-53 Tigers lead with 28.1 ticks remaining.
But that's when Aroga decided to defy his coaches' teachings and rely on his will to win with the shot that effectively tainted UST's immaculate record and made it 3-1.
"It's always hard when you don't win. We put ourselves in this situation and I told the boys we're gonna come back. Just do not waver. Remain steadfast. I think they showed it tonight," Altamirano proudly said.
Team captain Kevin Ferrer paced the Tigers with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists as he spearheaded his team's resurgence late in the third with a pair of three-pointers.
Big man Abdul added 11 points and 5 boards while Daquioag had 9.
NU (55): Aroga 19, Alejandro 9, Abatayo 8, Diputado 7, Neypes 6, Alolino 2, Javelona 2, Salim 2, Celda 0, Javillonar 0, Lastimosa 0, Tansingco 0.
UST (54): Ferrer 14, Abdul 11, Daquioag 9, Lao 8, Lee 6, Bonleon 3, Vigil 3, Faundo 0, Huang 0, Sheriff 0, Subido 0.
Quarter scores: 17-17, 33-26, 41-43, 55-54.