|The National University Bulldogs celebrate after they defeated the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 84-81, in overtime of their UAAP Season 75 second round match-up at the Araneta Coliseum Sunday. The Bulldogs booked a Final Four berth for the first time in 11 years. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com.
MANILA, Philippines –(UPDATED) It took 11 years and several seasons as one of the league's lower-tier teams, but finally, the National University (NU) Bulldogs have made it back to the UAAP Final Four.
In a wild game with numerous momentum swings, the Bulldogs outlasted the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws in overtime, 84-81, to book a berth in the Final Four of Season 75's men's basketball tournament Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Bulldogs finished the season with a 9-5 record, putting them in a triple tie with the Tamaraws and the De La Salle Green Archers. But by virtue of a superior quotient, the Bulldogs automatically took the third seed.
"This win is very significant for the NU community, as this is the first time we made it to the Final Four. This is where we wanted to be at the very start of the season," said NU head coach Eric Altamirano.
Reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bobby Ray Parks fired 27 points and overcame a dry spell in the second half as he came up big in the clutch for the Bulldogs.
The Tamaraws' veteran experience showed as they raced off to a six-point lead at the start of the overtime period, with a Mike Tolomia lay-up putting FEU ahead, 79-73, with 2:55 to go in the ball game.
That turned out to be the Tamaraws' final field goal of the contest, however, as NU, led by Emmanuel Mbe, slowly chipped at FEU's lead.
Mbe hit a free throw and then made a lay-up to cut the lead in half, and then Mark De Guzman fired a gutsy three-pointer with 1:05 remaining to tie the game.
|National U's Bobby Ray Parks shoots a jumper over the outstretched arms of FEU's Russell Escoto in the teams' UAAP Season 75 second round match-up Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com.
It was then that Parks took over. After not making a field goal since late in the third quarter, Parks came up big when it mattered most when he drilled a cold-blooded three-pointer over the outstretched arms of FEU’s Anthony Hargrove with 31-seconds to go.
"FEU played great defense and denied me the ball a lot," Parks said of his dry spell in the fourth quarter. "But it's not just all about me. The team helped me out and they were huge and they made big shots."
"It's not just about me scoring, it's more about the team... Coming into the game, they were ready to shoot it and we trust in one another to share the ball," he added.
To complete his clutch performance, Parks made two free throws in the final 16 seconds to ice the game for the Bulldogs.
FEU’s Russell Escoto misfired on a three-pointer in the Tams' final possession.
"Lahat naman ginawa na ng players," said FEU head coach Bert Flores. "Andoon 'yung effort at intensity. Kaso nagkaroon ng lapses noong overtime."
The game was a replay of the two squad’s highly controversial second round match-up, which was stricken off the record books after the UAAP Board ordered a replay.
In that game, which also saw several momentum swings, RR Garcia made a lay-up at the buzzer to win the game for the Tamaraws. The Bulldogs put the game under protest, but UAAP Commissioner Ato Badolato junked it.
The Bulldogs then elevated their protest to the UAAP Board, who ordered a replay of the game.
Like their original second-round match-up, the replay saw several deadlocks and game-changing runs for both squads.
After a close first half that saw FEU lead 42-37, the Bulldogs came out on fire in the third quarter. Parks and Mbe led the Bulldogs in a 14-0 run early in the period, which allowed NU to take a 51-46 lead.
But the Tams refused to go away, with Terrence Romeo steady at the free throw line to bring FEU back in the contest.
The Bulldogs looked as though they were pulling away again in the fourth quarter, even taking a nine-point lead, 71-62, off a jumper from Kyle Neypes.
Once again, the Tams rallied. After an Mbe lay-up made it 73-66 with 5:24 to go, FEU scored seven straight points to tie the ball game, with Tolomia converting a difficult floater with 39 seconds to go to make it 73-all.
Neither team was able to convert in the final 39 seconds, sending the game into an extra five minutes. In overtime, the Tams looked like they were on their way to victory before Parks – and the Bulldogs – took over.
"There were a lot of setbacks for this team this season," Altamirano said. "But I kept reminding the boys that God has a plan for us, and He will use those setbacks for us to come back."
Mbe won his match-up with Hargrove, scoring 25 points on top of 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, Romeo scored 25 points, while Garcia had 13 and Tolomia finished with 10.
Because of their loss, the Tamaraws will have to play the Green Archers in a play-off for the fourth seed on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum. The winner of the game will go on to face the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Final Four.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will take on the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, with the Tigers having a twice-to-beat advantage.
NU 84 - Parks 27, Mbe 25, Neypes 7, Alolino 7, Javillonar 6, De Guzman 5, Betayene 5, Singh 2, Villamor 0, Rono 0, Khobuntin 0
FEU 81 - Romeo 25, Garcia 13, Tolomia 10, Hargrove 7, Pogoy 6, Mendoza 5, Escoto 5, Belo 4, Foronda 3, M. Bringas 3, Cruz 0
The scores: 23-20, 37-42, 60-55, 73-73, 84-81