National University showed once again how it has long shaken off the tag of league doormat.
Ray Parks provided an early lift as the Bulldogs claimed the twice-to-beat semifinal bonus for the first time in school history with a 70-65 tripping of defending champion Ateneo in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament yesterday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“We’re very humbled with this victory, this is the first time we’re in this position,” NU coach Eric Altamirano said after his Bulldogs ended their best elimination run yet with a 10-4 record. “We have to take advantage of this opportunity, make full use of the twice-to-beat.”
Parks unloaded 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out a crucial assist to Dennice Villamor, who knocked in a left-corner triple with 22.2 seconds left that gave the Bulldogs a 68-63 lead after the Blue Eagles had closed in at 63-65.
Far Eastern University earlier wrapped up its elimination campaign with a similar 10-4 record, but the Bulldogs were assured of a semifinal bonus due to a higher quotient.
Idle La Salle still has a shot at forging a playoff for the remaining twice-to-beat edge with FEU if the Archers win over University of Santo Tomas on Saturday.
If La Salle loses its next game against UST, FEU will grab the last semifinal bonus and the No. 1 spot due to a higher head-to-head quotient with NU.
Meanwhile, Ateneo’s loss put its bid for a sixth straight championship in peril as the Blue Eagles slipped to fifth place at 7-6. The Eagles must win their last game against the Tigers when the two squads dispute the last Final Four berth next week.
Terrence Romeo eclipsed the season-high he set just four days ago by banging in 33 points as the Tamaraws rolled past winless University of the Philippines, 87-69, in the first game.
“The experience that we had in the second round helped us a lot,” coach Nash Racela said of his Tamaraws, who only won over the three eliminated teams in the second round after a 7-0 first-round sweep.
“But the good thing about it is we’re going to bring that [to the Final Four]. We learned our lessons as a team and as individuals.”
Emmanuel Mbe finished with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds while Villamor also delivered for the Bulldogs by scoring seven of his nine points in the fourth period.
The Bulldogs will finish no lower than the second spot when the elimination round ends next week.
Ateneo star Kiefer Ravena struggled for most of the game and finished with only three points on a 1-of-9 shooting.
FEU 87—Romeo 33, Tolomia 15, Pogoy 9, Garcia 8, Hargrove 7, Cruz 4, Belo 4, Aguilon 3, Sentcheu 2, Delfinado 2, Iñigo 0, Mendoza 0, Luz 0, Lee Yu 0, Jose 0, Dennison 0.
UP 69—Marata 23, Soyud 14, Lao 6, Gallarza 6, Suarez 5, Wong 4, Ligad 3, Gingerich 3, Harris 2, Ball 2, Desiderio 1, Asilum 0, Amar 0.
Quarters: 20-8, 46-28, 67-49, 87-69
NU 70—Parks 24, Mbe 17, Villamor 9, Alejandro 5, Khobuntin 4, Alolino 4, Porter 3, Javelona 3, Roño 1, Rosario 0, Javillonar 0.
ATENEO 65—Newsome 17, Erram 11, Tiongson 8, Elorde 8, Pesumal 7, Buenafe 7, Golla 4, Ravena 3, Tolentino 0, Capacio 0.
Quarters: 21-18, 33-29, 49-45, 70-65