UAAP: NU sinks FEU, one win away from back-to-back crowns

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2019 02:17 PM | Updated as of May 11 2019 03:09 PM

UAAP: NU sinks FEU, one win away from back-to-back crowns 1
Defending champion National University is one win away from a second straight men's volleyball crown. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) -- National University is just one win away from a second consecutive UAAP men's volleyball crown after downing Far Eastern University in Game 1 of the Season 81 Finals on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum. 

The Bulldogs dropped the first set but leaned on their championship experience in the tight second and third frames en route to a 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 triumph over the Tamaraws in the first game of the best-of-3 series.

The result moved National U to the brink of a second straight title, and their fourth crown in seven years.

Bryan Bagunas topscored for the Bulldogs with 18 points on 16 kills, while James Natividad earned Player of the Game honors after putting up 16 points on 15 attacks and an ace. Kim Malabunga and Madzlan Gampon each scored 10 points, with Malabunga accounting for 5 of NU's 8 blocks in the game.

"Medyo nagka-problema kami noong first set," admitted NU head coach Dante Alinsunurin. 

(We had a bit of a problem in the first set.)

"Ang tagal naming nakapag-adjust," added team captain Francis Saura. "Sobrang saya, kasi nanalo pa rin kami kahit ganoon ang performance namin (noong Set 1)."

(It took a while for us to adjust. We're so happy because we still won even if our performance was like that in the first set.)

National U's slow start extended to the second frame, wherein the Tamaraws stayed in control, 16-11. But the entry of the veteran Gampong reenergized the Bulldogs, and they came back to equalize. The third set was another close encounter, with neither team leading by more than 3 points.

In a nip-and-tuck finish, the Bulldogs proved to have greater composure. After a mishit by Gampong gave FEU a 22-21 lead, the veteran immediately made up for it with an off-the-block hit that knotted the count. Bagunas then overpowered the FEU blockers for a massive crosscourt hit, before FEU's Peter Quiel tied the set for the last time.

A service error by Sean Padon put the Bulldogs at set point, and Jude Garcia's attack in the last rally hit the tape of the net, gifting NU with the winner. The Tamaraws committed 9 errors in the pivotal third frame.

"Ang laking tulong ng experience namin sa championship," said Alinsunurin. "Every time na may situation ang kalaban namin, nagagawa namin ng paraan, mapa-opensa mapa-depensa."

(Our experience in the championship was a big help. Everytime there's a situation with our opponent, we are able to do something, whether it's in the offense or defense.)

The Bulldogs raced to a 7-2 lead in the fourth set, and were up by as much as 7 points, 20-13. NU's errors allowed the Tams to come as close as four points, 20-16, before big hits by Natividad and Bagunas pushed the defending champions to victory.

"Sana, magtuloy-tuloy lang ito sa next game," the NU coach said.

National U's offense spelled the difference, as they had 52 kills to FEU's 44. The Tamaraws also gave away 32 points from their errors, while NU had 31 miscues.

FEU skipper Richard Solis led the Tams with 17 points, while Bugaoan had 14 points including 4 kill blocks. Jude Garcia had 9 markers, but was off the mark for most of the game. 

Game 2 of the Finals series is on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

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