NU's Alfred Aroga soars for a layup against Ateneo. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 1) Five players scored in double figures for the National University (NU) as they scored a dominant 76-66 victory over the Ateneo Blue Eagles to claim their seventh win in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Bulldogs led by as much as 18 points in the first half, weathered an Ateneo rally in the final quarter, then stamped their class over the Blue Eagles via a huge run to finish the game.
NU, the best defensive team in the UAAP, ran circles around Ateneo on offense in the first quarter and raced to a 22-4 lead, which proved to be enough of a cushion when the Blue Eagles made their run in the final quarter.
"I think that really helped us a lot, 'yung first quarter. We had a good offensive game, which is not normal for us. Usually, we strive on our defense," said NU head coach Eric Altamirano.
"Today, we were able to do our job on offense, so it gave us a cushion," he added.
With their victory, NU hiked its win-loss record to 7-3, the same as Ateneo. The two squads are tied for the third and fourth places in the league standings.
"We need all the wins that we can get," Altamirano said of their record. "Alam namin how important the second round is... we cannot take a day off with our games. We have to be sharp, we have to be prepared mentally and physically."
NU had a seemingly comfortable 60-47 lead entering the final period when Ateneo center Alfonso Gotladera scored eight unanswered points to suddenly cut the deficit to five points, 60-55, with still 7:54 to go and fire up the restless Ateneo crowd.
The Bulldogs, however, showed their composure after a timeout called by Altamirano. A lay-up by point guard Gelo Alolino touched off a 16-4 scoring run punctuated by an and-1 play from big man Alfred Aroga, to re-establish a double-digit advantage, 76-58.
"We knew that Ateneo would make a run, so we just told them to stop the run, do what we do, go back to our fundamentals, go back to our discipline," Altamirano said.
"We did it with our defense. We made stops after stops, and we were able to get back the lead," he added.
In contrast, Ateneo was simply unable to get stops against NU as the Bulldogs repeatedly went to big men Aroga and Troy Rosario, who were able to score off their smaller defenders.
Meanwhile, Ateneo guard Kiefer Ravena was unable to hit his shots once again in the face of a disciplined NU defense, and scored only two points in the final quarter.
Aroga top-scored for NU with 15 points and Rosario added 14, while Alolino scored 13 points and was instrumental in NU's fantastic start. Paolo Javelona played a great two-way game, scoring 12 points while at the same time helping limit Ravena to only 18 points on seven-of-21 field goal shooting. Veteran Glenn Khobuntin added 11 markers.
"We need all the help we can get. And today, there were times that Troy stepped up, there was part of the game where Alfred stepped up, and Glenn as well," said Altamirano. "For us to beat the top teams, we need everybody. Hindi pwedeng may absent. We cannot afford that."
Aroga also had 11 rebounds and eight blocks, seven of which came in a stunning stretch in the second quarter when he simply shut down the paint. Rosario also had a double-double as he collared 10 rebounds of his own.
Dominant first half
The Bulldogs thoroughly dominated the first half, racing to a 22-4 lead in the first quarter as they completely stifled the Ateneo offense. The Blue Eagles were able to bring the lead down to single digits, 22-31, early in the second period, but NU re-established control when AAroga shut down the paint.
Aroga registered seven blocks in the first half alone, while NU got scoring from rookie Rev Diputado and forward Troy Rosario. They led 40-23 after a split at the line by Javelona.
Ateneo was able to bring the deficit down to a more manageable number thanks to a 7-2 run to end the second period courtesy of Ravena and Chris Newsome, and entered the halftime break down by 12 points, 30-42.
The Blue Eagles repeatedly tried to cut into the deficit in the second half, but outside of Gotladera's 8-0 run in the fourth, they were not able to establish themselves. An 8-0 run in the final 1:30 of the game allowed the final margin to be more respectable.
NU shot nearly 52% from the field, while holding Ateneo to only 33%. The Bulldogs had 10 blocks against only one for the Blue Eagles.
Aside from Ravena, Newsome also scored in double figures for Ateneo with 12 points, and Gotladera added 11 markers. Von Pessumal, however, misfired for much of the game, with two of his three triples coming when the game was already out of hand.
NU also beat Ateneo when they played in the first round, 64-60, in what was the Blue Eagles' first loss of the season.
NU 76 - Aroga 15, Rosario 14, Alolino 13, Javelona 12, Khobuntin 11, Diputado 6, Alejandro 3, Neypes 2, Betayene 0, Atangan 0.
ADMU 66 - K. Ravena 18, Newsome 12, Gotladera 11, Pessumal 8, Elorde 7, Capacio 4, Babilonia 4, Doliguez 2, T. Ravena 0, V. Tolentino 0, A. Tolentino 0, Porter 0.
Quarter-scoring: 24-14, 42-30, 60-47, 76-66.