Taking a tougher trek to title, NU looks to polish game before Final Four curtains part
At this point, National University (NU) will proceed to cleaning up its game so it can proceed with the business of defending its crown.
And the Lady Bulldogs had a few of those kinks exposed in their last elimination round game of the season.
“We will check out what really happened to us in this game,” said Bella Belen after NU had to battle back from two sets down at the start of the match before holding off also-ran Ateneo, 21-25, 28-30, 25-14, 25-13, 15-13, on Saturday to formally lay claim to the second twice-to-beat bonus in the UAAP Season 85 women’s volleyball tournament.
“We are happy that we got the twice-to-beat, but we have to play better next time by starting the game right,’’ added last year’s Rookie of the Year-Most Valuable Player winner after finishing with 26 points on 25 attacks while adding 19 receptions and 15 digs.
Surprisingly, the Lady Bulldogs needed every piece of her performance. And they will need it moving forward, too.
The Final Four pairings won’t be cemented until Sunday’s schedule but unless fate intervenes, NU’s title defense will eventually run through league-leading La Salle in a highly anticipated championship showdown.
And the Lady Spikers closed out their elimination round calendar much more convincingly than the reigning queens did.
La Salle yielded nothing to University of the East and ran off with a 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 victory in the other match at Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.
La Salle seems to be in the right head space too as it presses on with its title bid.
“We cannot afford to relax. We want to maintain our performance at a high level as we approach the semifinals,’’ said La Salle assistant coach Noel Orcullo.
La Salle (13-1, win-loss) will battle the No. 4 team while NU (11-3) will take on. the No. 3 seed in the semifinals. University of Santo Tomas and Adamson are tied at 9-4 and, after Sunday’s matches fix their final positions, will need to beat their semifinal foes twice in a row to progress to the Finals.
“We’re looking forward to the semis,” said rookie Angel Canino, who had 13 points for the Lady Spikers. “We will come in prepared regardless of who we face.’’
However the pairings go, NU knows it will need to work harder than last season when they cruised to the crown undefeated.
“We’ll study our past games, what happened, why the outcome was the way it was, why we performed the way we did and only then will we look at our opponents. We’ll start [working] on ourselves,” setter Camilla Lamina said.
But while the defending champions no longer have the luxury of an unbeaten run, they still possess the same confidence level.
“We might not have won all our games this time, but the season isn’t over yet. We’ll just stick to our goal and to the things we need to do to achieve that goal,’’ said Belen.
“We just have to be confident in what we do. We have to be disciplined on the floor and minimize those errors,’’ said Lamina.
Alyssa Solomon had 25 points built on 22 kills against Ateneo while Sheena Toring added 13 points and four blocks. Princess Robles contributed 11 points for the Lady Bulldogs, who will soar into the Final Four on the wings on a six-game winning run.
Vanessa Gandler, playing her final season with Ateneo, scored on 16 attacks en route to 20 points while collecting and 16 receptions. Faith Nisperos, who was noncommittal on a return to Katipunan, posted 17 points, eight digs and three blocks.