MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) National University (NU) bucked a nervy start to eventually overpower University of the East (UE), 100-81, seizing a crucial victory in the UAAP Season 84 tournament on Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Bulldogs broke the game open in the second quarter and were never threatened the rest of the way. They improved to 6-7 in the elimination round, keeping themselves in contention for a spot in the Final 4.
The Red Warriors, meanwhile, dropped to 0-13 in the tournament as they failed to build on a promising first quarter where they trailed by just one point, 21-20.
Enzo Joson led the way for NU with a season-high 15 points built on 3-of-4 shooting from long distance. Shaun Ildefonso added 12 points, while Ian Manansala just missed out on a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. The Bulldogs shot a superb 55.6% from the field, scoring a whopping 32 fastbreak points.
The Bulldogs responded to some tough love from head coach Jeff Napa, who gave his team a stern talking-to at the end of the first quarter following their shaky start.
"Ayaw na ayaw kong nakikitang nagpapatalo or nagre-relax 'yung team ko, kasi doon nakikita 'yung weaknesses ng kung sino man eh," he said. "Ini-instill ko lang na we have to be competitive."
NU went on to out-score the Red Warriors, 31-16, in the second quarter. Joson took charge in the period, drilling two three-pointers in the final 90 seconds to push his team ahead, 52-36, going into the halftime break.
It was all NU from there, and their lead reached 22 points, 100-78, off a split at the line by Manansala with 50 seconds to go. The Bulldogs became the third team this season to reach the century mark, after De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University.
It was also NU's highest scoring output since a 115-109 defeat to the Green Archers in September 16, 2017, in the first round of UAAP Season 80.
"At least we bounced back, two straight games na panalo," said Napa. "At least magandang bwelo 'to coming to Sunday's game against La Salle. Hindi kami pwedeng maging complacent kasi wala na sa kamay naming ang sitwasyon namin going to the Final 4. We have to be consistent on what we're doing."
Harvey Pagsanjan scored 16 points, and Clint Escamis added 15 for the Red Warriors, who converted 40% of their shots including nine three-pointers but simply had no answer for NU on the defensive end.
The Bulldogs will wrap up their elimination round schedule against De La Salle University on Sunday, in a game with major implications on the Final 4 picture. UE, meanwhile, take on Adamson University, another team seeking to make it to the semis.
NU 100 - Joson 15, Ildefonso 12, Mahinay 11, Manansala 9, Figueroa 9, Enriquez 8, Malonzo 6, Clemente 6, Flores 5, Torres 5, Felicilda 4, Galinato 4, Yu 4, Tibayan 2, Gaye 0.
UE 81 -- Pagsanjan 16, Escamis 15, Lorenzana 14, J. Cruz 11, N. Paranada 10, K. Paranada 7, Guevarra 3, Sawat 2, Pascual 2, Beltran 1, Antiporda 0, Villanueva 0, Tulabut 0, Abatayo 0.
Quarters: 21-20, 52-36, 77-58, 100-81.