MANILA, Philippines -- Jeff Napa expects National University's young stars to show improvement in the coming UAAP season after the Bulldogs fell short of making the Final 4 in Season 84.
A 76-65 defeat to De La Salle University in their final elimination round game dashed NU's hopes of possibly forcing a playoff for the last spot in the semis.
Instead, they ended their campaign with a 6-8 slate and missed the Final 4 for the fifth season in a row.
"Siguro, mas hungry manalo 'yung La Salle against us," Napa admitted after the loss, which saw them get within striking distance in the fourth quarter only to fold when the Green Archers made a run.
"We will come back stronger na lang next season," the coach said. "Gaya ng lagi kong sinasabi, we have to move forward."
"Nakaka-disappoint kasi may chance kami to extend the season, pero we fell short. Siguro, ano lang, we will come back stronger na lang next season."
The loss to La Salle is just one of the heartbreakers that Napa hopes his younger players will draw inspiration from when they begin their build-up to Season 85. He had played his rookies more minutes against the Green Archers, opting to sit his veterans.
Graduating team captain Shaun Ildefonso logged just seven minutes and 35 seconds, going scoreless after missing the lone field goal he took. John Lloyd Clemente was also scoreless in his nine-minute stint, missing all three field goals.
"Feel ko lang na, I think they're not ready to play basketball. Sa biggest basketball of their lives, biglang naging flat," Napa said of his veterans. "Us coaches naman, siguro ako, maghahanap ako ng ibang bagay na alam kong sa tingin ko, uubra."
"Absent ata 'yung mga beterano ko kung kelan pa huling napakaimportanteng laban. Eh present 'yung mga bata. So ganoon lang ka-simple, 'yung mga bata ginamit ko," he added. "Dumikit pero kinapos, ganoon talaga eh. So again, it's my coaching decision na hindi na sila ibalik."
It was the likes of Jake Figueroa, Michael Malonzo, and Steve Nash Enriquez that sparked NU's run in the second half. Figueroa, a former UAAP Juniors MVP from Adamson, showed his full arsenal with 20 points, 14 rebounds, six steals, and two assists in the loss.
Another rookie, Janjan Felicilda, was arguably NU's most consistent performer in Season 84 but he was held to two points by La Salle in their final game. Nonetheless, Napa is counting on these players to make a leap when they return to the UAAP wars later this year.
"Babaunin namin 'tong defeat na 'to, para at least 'yung mga young ones ay magkaroon ng inspirasyon para coming next season, alam na nila kung paano gagawin nila, para hindi na danasin itong na-experience na heartbreak," said Napa.
"Itong defeat na 'to, heartbreaking, masakit, pero we have to move forward," he stressed.
On a personal level, Napa is also hoping to learn from their Season 84 campaign. It had been his first year in charge of the Bulldogs, after stints with the National University high school program as well as the Letran Knights in the NCAA.
"Ako rin, learning experience sa akin 'to, as a rookie coach here in the UAAP," he said. "Siguro, still a challenge for me para pagbutihan ko pa. Siguro kulang pa, kulang pa rin."