UAAP: Pumaren thanks Baltazar for fulfilling promise to return

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 08 2022 02:47 PM

La Salle center Justine Baltazar high-fives Michael Phillips after a play against UP in their UAAP Season 84 Final 4 game. UAAP Media.
La Salle center Justine Baltazar high-fives Michael Phillips after a play against UP in their UAAP Season 84 Final 4 game. UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines -- Despite a gut-wrenching end to their UAAP Season 84 campaign, De La Salle University coach Derrick Pumaren had nothing but heartfelt gratitude for his seniors who led the way for the Green Archers in the tournament.

La Salle blew an opportunity to return to the UAAP Finals after squandering a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of their do-or-die game against the University of the Philippines on Friday night. They had no answer for Carl Tamayo down the stretch, as the UP rookie towed the Fighting Maroons to a 78-74 triumph.

"I think we just did not close out the game. I think we had the game in control, but we made a lot of mistakes," said Pumaren, whose players fell apart in the fourth quarter when faced with UP's pressure defense. 

They were out-scored 27-10 by the Fighting Maroons in the fourth period, with Tamayo accounting for 12 points. His final bucket was an and-1 with some 20 seconds left that came at the expense of La Salle's graduating center, Justine Baltazar.

"I've been telling the team that we're gonna take care of the basketball, but UP capitalizes every time we make a mistake. And that's what happened," said Pumaren. "Masyado kami marami turnover and they were able to take advantage of that."

Pumaren said that they didn't discuss the game in the dugout. Rather, they focused on thanking Baltazar and Kurt Lojera, their graduating players who suited up for La Salle for the final time. 

Baltazar managed just nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, along with eight rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Lojera had been a bright spot for La Salle all throughout the season, but was limited to two points on 1-of-6 shooting by UP.

La Salle's Justine Baltazar and Kurt Lojera sing their school hymn after their loss to UP in the UAAP Season 84 Final 4. UAAP Media.
La Salle's Justine Baltazar and Kurt Lojera sing their school hymn after their loss to UP in the UAAP Season 84 Final 4. UAAP Media.

It had been Deschon Winston who carried the La Salle offense with 26 points, but he was held in check in the final quarter. Evan Nelle, coming off a career-game in their first Final 4 encounter, went 2-of-12 from the field and missed a potential game-tying floater.

"We just wished them luck, the senior guys namin," said Pumaren.

"We're really proud of the way these guys played, especially Kurt. Kurt has stepped up his game this season," he also said.

Pumaren was especially grateful to Baltazar, who opted to return for his final season of eligibility with La Salle despite having options not just in the Philippines but even overseas.

"We really appreciate Balti's gesture for still playing his last year, where he could've been playing, to play sa Japan or whatever, turn professional," Pumaren said. "But he still fulfilled his promise, that he will finish his last playing year."

"We were grateful for that and we really appreciate that, Balti's attitude. 'Yung ang talagang pagka-Lasallian niya," he added.

Baltazar averaged 12.69 points and 10.46 rebounds per game in his final year as a Green Archer, and is tipped to earn a spot in the Mythical Team.

Both Lojera and Baltazar have declared for the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft.