NU blanks Ateneo to close in on UAAP men’s volleyball crown
National University shut down Marck Espejo and beat Ateneo in straight sets, 25-20, 25-19, 25-23, in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 80 men’s volleyball Finals Saturday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bulldogs, who got swept by the Blue Eagles in the last three championship rounds, leaned on Bryan Bagunas, James Natividad and Madz Gampong.
Bagunas scored a game-high 19 points while Natividad added 17 points. Gampong, who anchored NU’s defense, had 11 points built on five blocks.
NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin downplayed his team’s defensive effort against Espejo, who was limited to 16 points.
“We focused on our service and our blocking. It just so happened that we did good on our service and they weren’t able to receive well,” said Alinsunurin in Filipino.
Espejo seemed invincible heading into a fifth straight finals matchup against NU after averaging a jaw-dropping 46 points per game, highlighted by a record-setting 55 points, in the Final Four where Ateneo knocked off No. 2 Far Eastern University.
Ateneo rallied from five points down, to pull within a point, 24-23, before Kim Malabunga, who chipped in eight points, converted the game-sealing hit.
Despite the loss, the Eagles are upbeat heading into Game 2 on Wednesday.
“It’s about being consistent and being able to adjust but we weren’t able to do that today. Perhaps, the fatigue hit us. But the series isn’t over yet and hats off to NU,” said Ateneo coaco Oliver Almadro.
“Our backs are against the wall but we will never back down. I’m sure my players will be back. They’re resilient and I trust them,” Almadro added.
Get the hottest sports news straight into your inbox
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.