NU 75 – UST 68
During the preseason, the main concern most pundits had about the NU Bulldogs was their lack of veteran leadership. After several seasons with the steady hand of Gelo Alolino at the helm, the Bulldogs entering this season had a mini-leadership void that they had to fill.
So far, the team has been solid, but not spectacular. With Coach Eric Altamirano at the helm, his wards have grown up quickly, forming, for the most part, a cohesive unit. And that cohesiveness was on full display during the first 30 minutes of the game.
Many expected NU and UST to engage in a defensive slugfest, similar to the game that preceded it, UP versus FEU. What happened was actually the opposite. National University opened the game with all guns blazing, scoring 27 points in the first period. Though the team still has not identified a go-to-guy, they made up for that with precise passes and efficient baskets, with nine different players putting points up.
The Bulldogs didn’t step on the brakes during the second quarter, continuing their stellar play while quickly halting any Growling Tigers run. Even though Alfred Aroga, the player who was expected to take up the leadership mantle, was limited to a solitary point in the first half, National U. was able to ride the hot hands of JJay Alejandro, Meds Salim, and Matt Salem, forging a 17-point advantage, 46-29, at the half.
But against a team that has carved out a reputation as “Comeback Cats,” NU was about to be tested.
NU continued to pound away at UST after the break, stretching their lead to 20, 69-49, one period left. But that was when UST pounced, seeing an opportunity to send their foes reeling.
A huge 11-0 run got UST within single-digits, and it was something the hosts achieved on both sides of the court. NU’s sublime half-court execution from the first 30 minutes disappeared in the Araneta Coliseum air-conditioning. Whenever they tried to start their play with low post entry pass, UST’s players were there to swarm the post player, forcing the Bulldogs to chuck up contested shots from outside.
It was painful to watch for NU fans, and an exhilarating stretch for the UST faithful.
However, it didn’t last. Though NU scored just six fourth quarter points, UST’s 19 was not enough to topple their foes.
The Growling Tigers are in a similar position as the Bulldogs. But where NU lost Alolino alone (primarily), UST saw their trio of stars graduate, Kevin Ferrer, Karim Abdul, and Ed Daquioag. They’ve made strides in overcoming those losses, but like the Bulldogs, those moments come and go. Consistency, is still an issue.
Just like it is for the Bulldogs.
It’s a common theme in the UAAP this season. Nearly all of the teams have lost key players, forcing former role players to step up as major contributors. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing either for the likes of AdU, Ateneo, and FEU. With the middle of the standings, sandwiched between 5-0 DLSU, and 1-4 UP and 0-5 UE, the upcoming Final Four race is so tight, whichever team shows the most growth in the shortest amount of time will likely be the one with a twice-to-beat advantage in the end.
The curriculum is still on-going for all of those aforementioned teams. NU passed this test, but they have plenty more to come.