MANILA, Philippines – National University's (NU) foreign centers Alfred Aroga and Henri Betayene, who have helped turn the Bulldogs into the UAAP's best defensive team, are proud of their roles as defensive anchors and rebounders.
NU ended the first round of the tournament as the best defensive team in the league, allowing only an average of 52.4 points per game and holding teams to only 31.6% from the field.
According to stats website HumbleBola, teams playing against NU only register an effective field goal percentage of 35.4%, nearly seven percentage points below the league average.
Aroga and Betayene have played a huge role in the Bulldogs' defense, and they shone again in NU's 71-50 demolition of Adamson University on Wednesday. The two centers combined for 26 of NU's 65 rebounds, while the Falcons as a team had only 32.
"I always try to focus on what I am going to do on the court for the team, and the target was rebounds," Betayene said after the game. "I really did my best to focus on it, and things got easier."
Betayene, who also played for NU in Season 75, said the priority for him and Aroga is always to lead the way on defense.
"I think that's the priority of every big man, the rebounds and to be there for the defense, to deflect the shot. Before thinking about anything else, we have to really focus on that. That's our job, we have to do that," he said.
Aroga agreed, even saying that scoring is "not his thing."
"I feel like there are scorers in the team, so I let them do their job," said Aroga, who had seven points against Adamson. "As a big man, I have to do what I can do to help the team, like getting rebounds, create for my teammates."
Aroga also explained why he goes for rebounds with such passion: "Coach E (Eric Altamirano) is always telling me, 'Alfred, just put in your mind that every time there's a rebound, if you don't get that rebound, maybe your family is gonna die.'"
"So that think that way, and that is the motivation for me to do a good job in rebounding," he added. "So every time one of my teammates gets a rebound, I'm mad at myself, like no, I'm supposed to get that rebound."
Because of UAAP rules, Aroga and Betayene have never shared the court this season, but the two seem comfortable with how the minutes are split between them.
"It's perfect. We just have to trust the coach and every time we get in the court, we have to be ready," said Betayene, who played a little over 20 minutes against Adamson while Aroga played 18.
"I'm comfortable," said Aroga. "It's a team game, and it's not about the individual. I don't just have to think about myself."
"If the coaching staff feels like they need to have a change, I'm okay with that as far as it helps the team. I'm okay with that. I don't complain, I just do my job," he added.
Both players also expressed their satisfaction at beating Adamson after having lost two consecutive games.
"This win is definitely something really good for us, since we're trying to get our confidence back," said Betayene. "It's the best thing that could have happened to us right now. We really like it and hopefully we're gonna do better in the coming games."
"This game is a boost for us. We really need this game," added Aroga. "It's gonna help us for the next game against Ateneo."