UAAP: NU denies Ateneo comeback to forge do-or-die | Inquirer Sports

UAAP: NU denies Ateneo comeback to forge do-or-die

By: - Reporter / @MarkGiongcoINQ
/ 06:46 PM September 24, 2014

MANILA, Philippines — National University reasserted its mastery over Ateneo with a 78-74 win to extend their Final Four duel to a deciding game in the UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Bulldogs blew a 15-point lead and went without a field goal inside the final eight minutes but sank seven of their last free throws in the last 59.3 seconds left to survive the Blue Eagles’ late run.


“There’s big pressure when being the No. 1 team compared to being the No. 4 but we didn’t think about that,” said NU head coach Eric Altamirano, whose team was ousted by fourth-seeded University of Santo Tomas in the Final Four last year. “We just want to give our best for this game. We know how important this game is. We’re not even looking beyond this game.”


NU’s second-year guard JJay Alejandro chose the best time to deliver the game of his young UAAP career with 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field that went with four assists and no turnover in 26 minutes of action off the bench.

“Coach told us to play without pressure and with no regrets,” said Alejandro, whose two pressure-packed free throws put his team ahead for good 73-72 with 59.3 ticks remaining.

“He (Alejandro) was really focused today mentally and physically. He’s the type of player that can deliver anytime,” praised Altamirano.

The former Philippine youth team standout Alejandro along with starting guard Gelo Alolino keyed in an early third-quarter surge that helped the Bulldogs reestablish a commanding lead 68-53 with 8:03 left.

Alolino finished with 16 points, including a pair of freebies that gave NU a 75-72 cushion with 31.5 seconds remaining that went with three rebounds.

After scoring just 17 points in the two games the Blue Eagles lost to the Bulldogs in the elimination round, Kiefer Ravena poured in 24 but not after putting up 35 attempts and making only nine.


Ravena, the newly minted season MVP, though, fired 15 points in the final frame to drive Ateneo back in the game.

Chris Newsome and Nico Elorde, who finished with 14 and 12 points, respectively, also came up with huge plays for the Eagles down the stretch.

Newsome’s two free throws and a 3-point play cut NU’s lead down to three, 69-66, with still 2:08 left but more importantly, drew the Bulldogs’ key big men in Glenn Khobuntin and Alfred Aroga their final fouls.

Elorde drilled in a 3-pointer that gave Ateneo its first taste of the lead 72-71 with 1:14 left.

Fortunately for NU, the steady play of its guards in the end game kept the team afloat.

NU extended its winning streak against Ateneo to five games dating back to last year. But Altamirano insists, the Bulldogs won’t have any edge or whatsoever heading into their do-or-die game for a finals berth exactly a week from now.

“When the Final Four comes, you have to throw away the stats and the numbers, it’s really about heart and who wants to win more,” Altamirano said. “And tonight, the boys never gave up, they never quit, they gave everything.”

Last season, NU became the first top-seeded team to get the boot in the semifinals since the Final Four was introduced and exactly next week, the Bulldogs look to rewrite history as they try to knock off the Blue Eagles and crash into the finals for the first time in 44 years.

“We have one more game to go. If history dictates itself so be it,” said Altamirano. “At this point, we have to give everything we have left.”

“Right now, the focus really is just to get to the finals. We’re one win away and that’s all we’ve been focusing. It’s not about what happened last year. We’ve moved on from that.”

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TAGS: Ateneo Blue Eagles, Basketball, NU Bulldogs, Sports, UAAP Season 77

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