|NU players celebrate after defeating Ateneo in Game 2 of the UAAP 76 men's volleyball finals. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- The National University (NU) Bulldogs fended off the Ateneo Blue Eagles in four hard-fought sets to take Game 2 of the UAAP Season 76 men's volleyball finals and clinch a second consecutive championship.
With four players scoring in double-digits, NU beat the young Ateneo team, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23 and 27-25, Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
"Siyempre UAAP ito eh, sobrang sarap ng pakiramdam, sobrang proud ako sa nangyari sa amin. 'Di namin akalain na ito mangyayari sa amin," said Coach Dante Alinsinurin of NU. "Dati, lagi kaming seventh or eighth; ngayon, nakilala na ang NU dahil sa championship."
Last season's Finals Most Valuable Player, Peter Torres, had several spectacular kills on his way to 13 points, but it was Berlin Paglinawan who topscored for NU with 15 points.
Ruben Baysac scored a career-high 14 points, and skipper Ben Inaudito added 11 markers for the Bulldogs.
"Sila talaga 'yung naging factor sa game namin," Alinsunurin said of his veterans. "Yung mga senior namin, talagang lumaban."
After taking a 2-1 lead, the Bulldogs had to rally from an early deficit in Set 4, and used a blistering 8-0 run to take control of the game, 20-16.
They reached championship point for the first time, 24-21, after a running hit by Torres, but Ateneo saved three match points and tied the game thanks to hitting errors by the Bulldogs.
Fauzi Ismail, who came off the bench and served well as NU made their rally, saw two of his attacks sail wide, while another hit the net, keeping Ateneo in the match.
Ismail's last attack error allowed Ateneo to tie the set for the last time at 25-all, before the pair of Inaudito and Torres conspired to put an end to the nearly two-hour showdown.
Inaudito scored off a combination play, and Torres blocked Ateneo star Marck Espejo at the net to seal the championship for the Bulldogs.
It was Inaudito, who provided not only a scoring punch but leadership inside the floor as well, who was named the MVP of the Finals series.
The Blue Eagles, making their first Finals appearance in the Final Four era, were led by Espejo with 20 points, while Rex Intal had 12 markers.
But the rest of the Ateneo attackers were inconsistent, as NU's net defense again flustered them the way it did in Game 1 last week. As a team, the Bulldogs registered 15 block points, as opposed to only four for the Blue Eagles. NU also narrowly won the spiking contest, 46-44.
It is the second straight crown for the Bulldogs, who defeated Far Eastern University in last season's finals.
Alinsunurin acknowledged that their experience of having played in the Finals last year was a major factor against a younger Ateneo squad.
"Sobrang laki noon, kasi 'yung mga bata, natututo na sa pressure," he said.
NU won Game 1 in three sets last Saturday.
The Bulldogs held off a late rally by the Blue Eagles to take the opener, 25-22, but Ateneo equalized in Set 2, 25-21, with Intal providing an intimidating presence at the net in both offense and defense.
NU was cruising to victory in the third set, 21-17, when unforced errors by the Bulldogs allowed Ateneo to claw its way back to the game. A down-the-line kill by Espejo forged a 21-all tie, and the two squads exchanged points until another Espejo kill tied the set for the last time at 23-all.
But it was the Bulldogs who proved to be the steadier team at crunch time, as Inaudito beat the Ateneo blockers, and a Paglinawan crosscourt kill put an end to the set.
NU and Ateneo split their meetings in the elimination round, with the Bulldogs winning their first encounter in five sets, before the Blue Eagles shocked them with a three-set sweep in the second round.