MANILA, Philippines – After losing their first four games in excruciating fashion, the National University (NU) Bulldogs were given a more painful blow by two-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila University last Sunday afternoon.
The Bulldogs lost their first four games by an average margin of just four points – including three one-point losses. In their other defeat, they got ahead of University of Santo Tomas in the final six seconds, only to give up a game-tying basket to Soulemane Chabi Yo and lose, 87-74, in overtime.
The Blue Eagles gave them no chance to make it a close game, however. Ateneo surged ahead, 20-11, after the opening frame, and led by as much as 25 points en route to a 71-50 triumph.
For NU veteran Shaun Ildefonso, the 21-point demolition was a much harder loss to accept than their one-point heartbreakers.
"Oh definitely, definitely. Mas tough 'to," said Ildefonso, who had 9 points on just 4-of-11 shooting in the defeat.
"If you ask me honestly, we played not as a team today. Ayun nga, it was really tough to take in. Kasi, lahat ng games namin, 'pag natalo kami, alam mo, andoon pa rin kami," he explained.
"After nitong Ateneo, parang hiwa-hiwalay kami," he admitted.
Ildefonso said that their team "played really selfish" against the Blue Eagles, which was not the character of the Bulldogs.
NU simply could not get going against Ateneo, as they were outplayed on both ends by the Blue Eagles. Their best quarter was the third, when they held the Blue Eagles to just nine points on 3-of-14 shooting. Unfortunately for NU, they managed just 13 points of their own, and thus barely made a dent in the defending champions' lead.
Ateneo regained its rhythm on offense in the fourth quarter to completely pull away, and the Bulldogs could do little as they absorbed their fifth loss in a row.
The dominance of Ange Kouame had a lot to do with their struggles, said Ildefonso. The reigning Rookie of the Year carved up NU for 15 points, 13 rebounds, 7 blocks, 3 assists and 3 steals, and the Bulldogs never quite figured out how to get around the Ivorian center.
"His inside presence is just insane. I commend him, I think he's one of the best shot-blockers, in the world probably," said Ildefonso of Kouame. "He's just really long. I think malaking factor 'yun sa defense ng Ateneo."
"But if there's a will, there's a way naman eh. There will always be ways to scores on Ateneo," he added.
At 0-5, NU remains the only winless team in the UAAP. But Ildefonso stressed that their team remains upbeat, and that they are confident of making a breakthrough before the first round of the tournament is over.
"We're hungrier, we're hungrier than ever. We want that win, we want that first win talaga," said Ildefonso.
The Bulldogs take on Far Eastern University on Wednesday, before facing off against University of the East on Sunday.
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