UAAP: NU escapes UE for last Final Four berth
MANILA, Philippines — Alfred Aroga made the game-winning free throws as National University ended University of the East’s Cinderella run with a 51-49 squeaker to clinch the last Final Four berth in the UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament Saturday at the before a raucous crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Cameroonian center Aroga sank the winning freebies with 12.4 seconds left after he was fouled by Charles Mammie off the inbound pass by Paolo Javelona.
“That was the biggest play of our season. The whole game were having a hard time trying to get open on that inbound play and it’s a good thing that Paolo was able to see Alfred under the basket,” said a calm NU head coach Eric Altamirano. “For Alfred to make those free throws, those were two big free throws for us.”
The game though, was far from over from that point with the door still open for the resilient Red Warriors, who found their way back from a seven-point deficit with three minutes left to tie it at 49, on a free throw by Chris Javier with still 37.9 seconds left.
But UE blew a defensive assignment as Aroge came free under the basket off a baseline inbound that led to his two free throws after committing its 27th turnover of the game on a traveling by Paul Varilla also inside the final minute.
Despite all those missed opportunities which included a 5-of-13 shooting at the stripe in the fourth quarter alone, the do-or-die match still wound down to the final shot.
And fortunately for the Bulldogs, graduating swingman Bong Galanza, perhaps the deadliest outside shooter on the floor, missed a wide open 3-pointer before time ran out on UE’s season.
“We knew coming into that timeout that they’re going to go to Sumang so we wanted to make him give up that ball,” Altamirano recalled on his team’s last defensive play. “We knew that he’s going to attack, he’s going to make those one-on-one plays. So we just tried to double him and force him to give up the ball.”
NU wisely doubled up on Roi Sumang, who almost single-handedly brought his team back with 13 of his game-high 19 points coming in the fourth quarter, that forced him to give the ball up to Galanza, who couldn’t find his touch all game but still had the Bulldogs holding their breaths when he launched the potential game-winning triple.
Veteran forward Glenn Khobuntin, also playing in his final year, scored half of his team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter that went with six rebounds for NU.
Troy Rosario flirted with a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds while Aroga finished with seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
The Bulldogs had to buck a slow start and the early ouster of chief guard Gelo Alolino, who fouled out with still 2:35 remaining and with the Warriors breathing down their necks.
The Bulldogs booked a semifinals date with the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles, who own a twice-to-beat advantage.
NU swept Ateneo in the elimination round but Altamirano knows their previous two meetings won’t mean anything in the Final Four.
“It’s a different ball game come Final four. I know we beat them twice but their confidence is very high coming into the Final Four and we just had to be ready.”
UE, which had its five-game winning streak snapped, will miss the Final Four for the fifth straight year.
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