National U puts first-round lead in its sights after victory over La Salle
Amid the din that engulfed the arena at the height of National University (NU) fightback, Steve Nash Enriquez whispered a prayer.
“Both teams really prepared so it was up to God if we would win,” Enriquez said in Filipino.
The Cebuano playmaker also had a hand in the result.
Enriquez finished with 16 points, including 12 in the first half, and flaunted expert quarterbacking for the Bulldogs, who also drew clutch performances from Jhon Lloyd Clemente and Omar John in a tense 80-76 victory over La Salle’s Green Archers in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday.
National U has now won four straight games to zoom to the top of the standings and hasn’t lost since Enriquez returned to action after missing the first three games of the team due to a hamstring injury.
“Our mentality is to be the hungrier team. And we Bulldogs were hungrier so we got the win,” Enriquez said.
And with NU clinging to the UAAP lead, it has managed to respond to urgings of coach Jeff Napa for the Bulldogs to prove they should be part of the discussion on title favorites.
“There’s nothing wrong if we dream about joining the big boys, but we will not be able to get it if we don’t work hard. We have to commit ourselves to this day in, day out,’’ Napa said.
He has a chance to set his team on top at the end of the first round as the Bulldogs close out that phase against winless Far Eastern U (FEU) on Sunday.
“We’re not too talented compared to other teams, but we have big hearts and give our best, whatever it takes,’’ said Napa.
But that best will have to get better as the tournament goes deeper.
“I feel there are things that we still need to improve on,’’ said Enriquez, who missed NU’s lone loss—against Ateneo—because of his injury.
But Napa never lost faith in the quicksilver guard.
“He was raised well,” Napa said. “He’s God-fearing and doesn’t care about perks or whatsoever. He just wants to prove himself. He’s a born leader.”
Enriquez hit John with a feed that resulted in a dunk that gave NU a 77-69 edge with 3:01 to play, enough cushion for the Bulldogs to send the Archers to their third defeat in six games.
“I challenged them to find their identity against UP (University of the Philippines) and told them that we have to be consistent against Adamson before saying that we need a 2,000-percent effort to beat La Salle,’’ Napa said.
Kevin Quiambao banged in 15 points for La Salle but bungled two crucial attempts from way out that could have altered the outcome. Michael Phillips also had 15 for the Green Archers.
NU now turns its focus on cleaning up its execution heading into Sunday’s duel with FEU.
“Although we won, we have to correct ourselves [after committing 28 turnovers] and address what we need to address. We don’t have to be content and be ready on Sunday,’’ said Napa.
Ateneo recovered lost ground in the other game after clipping the wings of Adamson early en route to an emphatic 76-55 win.