NU's Alfred Aroga gestures after scoring in this file photo. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
In spite of their 61-59 loss to the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, the National University (NU) Bulldogs reclaimed their title of the UAAP’s Best Defensive Team after the end of the first round of play. Despite a 3-4 record, good for fifth in the standings, the defending champions have held opponents to a league-low 62.6 points per game.
“I think it is good for us that we are starting to play well defensively,” said NU head coach Eric Altamirano. “What we need to do now is to put it all together and play more consistently.”
With center Alfred Aroga finding his groove late in the first round, the Bulldogs have become bullish inside the paint and are allowing only 24.6 points inside the paint.
NU is the best team in rebounds allowed with 39.7 a game and because of that opponents only score 7.7 fastbreak points against them. Their stinginess on defense doesn’t allow foes too many assists and they surrender a low of 10.7 dishes a match. Opposing starters also score the fewest against NU by tacking on 33.6 points.
“We don’t have the weapons we have in the past,” pointed out Altamirano. “So we place an even higher premium on defense. It allows us to keep the game close where we hope our veterans (point guard Gelo Alolino, forward Kyle Neypes, and shooting guard JJ Alejandro) can stand out and finish strong.”
“Masama lang 'yung start namin,” conceded Alolino who is in his fifth year with NU. The Bulldogs started 0-3, won their next three before taking a loss to FEU. “Ngayon mas maganda 'yung flow ng offense at 'yung ibang player nag-step up tulad ni Meds Salim at Raph Tansingco.”
“As a team, there are many parts of the game where we have to improve,” pointed out Aroga who is in his second season with the team. “Turnovers is one of them. Like the turnover I had at the end of our game against FEU.”
With the Tamaraws leading 61-59, FEU point guard Mike Tolomia missed a jumper of which Aroga grabbed the rebound. His pass to forward Kyle Neypes was intercepted by FEU defensive stalwart Francis Tamsi with one second left. Although Tamsi missed two free throws after a duty foul by Neypes, NU couldn’t get off a decent shot giving FEU a win that allowed them to tie UST at 6-1 at the end of the first round.
“I say this all the time but we are really taking this one game at a time,” summarized Altamirano, who is now in his sixth year with the Bulldogs -- the longest-tenured bench tactician among the current crop of UAAP coaches. “Hopefully, we can get better in the second round."
“It’s nice to be the number one ranked defensive team,” said Aroga. “But I would rather have the win."
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