NU's Troy Rosario gestures after the Bulldogs beat the FEU Tamaraws to tie the UAAP men's basketball Finals series. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA -- (UPDATE 2) The National University (NU) Bulldogs raced off to a hot start and squashed a late rally to down the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, 62-47, in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball finals Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Troy Rosario put up a huge double-double of 19 points and 14 rebounds (nine of which came on the offensive end), Gelo Alolino again came up huge in crunch time, and the NU defense held FEU to its lowest scoring output all season.
"We just reminded the players that this game is about effort," said NU head coach Eric Altamirano. "It will all boil down to effort. We felt that in the last game, na-outwork kami ng FEU."
"We lost them in transition, they got a lot of offensive rebounds (in Game 1), and today, we were able to address that," he added.
The victory allowed the Bulldogs to tie the best-of-three series at one game apiece and force a do-or-die game for the UAAP men's basketball crown next Wednesday, October 15.
Alolino comes up clutch
In a game witnessed by a record-breaking crowd of 24,896, the Bulldogs leaned on clutch triples from Alolino to hold off the Tamaraws' rally in the fourth quarter.
FEU repeatedly trimmed NU's lead to six points in the final quarter, the last at 44-50 with 2:46 to go when Mike Tolomia drained a jump shot. But off a missed shot by Game 1 hero Roger Pogoy, NU was able to work the ball to Alolino, who was wide open in the corner, and the guard responded by hitting a clutch three-pointer.
After a missed shot by FEU veteran Carl Bryan Cruz, NU again put the ball in the hands of Alolino, and he responded by hitting another three-pointer with just one second left in their shot-clock, making it a 12-point game, 56-44, with 1:21 left.
"I thought our guards handled the pressure well. They were making a run, but we kept our poise. We did not take a bad shot. We waited and waited until we got a good shot," said Altamirano.
Tolomia hit a three-pointer of his own to make it 47-56 with 1:14 left, but it was FEU's last field goal of the game and the Bulldogs were steady at the free throw line in the final minute to ice the victory.
Strong start by NU
NU got off to a fantastic start, leading by as much as 13 points, 16-3, in the first period thanks to Rosario, who had nine points in the opening frame alone.
With the Bulldogs toting a tall frontline of Alfred Aroga, Rosario, and Glenn Khobuntin, the Tamaraws found it nearly impossible to score inside the paint, and to make matters worse, their jumpers were also missing their mark.
NU took an 18-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, with Rosario having outscored FEU all by himself.
"Yung laro ko ngayon, gusto ko lang makatulong sa team. Sabi ko nga, ayoko na maging last game ko ito," said Rosario, who limped out of NU's loss in Game 1 due to cramps. "Kung merong pinaka-importanteng game sa amin, ito 'yun."
The lead ballooned to 16 points, 22-6, in the second period, and the Bulldogs' hard work on the offensive glass allowed them to maintain a double-digit lead throughout most of the second period.
FEU was able to cut the lead to only eight points after Tolomia sparked an 8-2 charge to end the quarter, and the Tamaraws entered the halftime break down 18-26 despite making only seven field goals in the first half.
The Tamaraws trimmed the lead to six points, 24-30, midway through the third period, but the Bulldogs got scoring contributions from Aroga, JJay Alejandro, and Rev Diputado to extend their lead to 13 once again, 43-30, at the end of the third frame.
Mac Belo and Tolomia led an 8-0 FEU run in the fourth quarter that allowed them to trim the lead to single digits, but the Tamaraws had no answer for Alolino in the end as the veteran guard took control of the game for NU.
Defense is key
Their Game 2 win marked the first time this season that NU had beaten FEU, and they did it thanks to their trademark defense. The Bulldogs held the Tamaraws - one of the best offensive teams in the league -- to only six points in the opening frame, and FEU was never able to get its offense on track all throughout the contest.
"We felt that in the last game, we did not do a good job defensively. We allowed them to score in the 70s, and when they score in the 70s, they always win," Altamirano noted.
FEU won Game 1 last Saturday, 75-70, with Belo hitting a huge shot in the final minute after Pogoy sparked a huge run in the third quarter that allowed the Tamaraws to take control of the game.
In Game 2, however, the Tamaraws shot only 28% from the field the whole game, and were out-rebounded 58-39. NU had 27 offensive rebounds in the contest, leading to 16 second chance points.
The Bulldogs also forced the Tamaraws to play at their pace and slowed down the game. The 47 points scored by FEU was the lowest output of a team in a Finals game. Incidentally, the previous record was also held by the Tamaraws, when they were beaten 72-49 by Ateneo in Game 1 of the Season 73 Finals.
Both teams will now have one week to gear up for what should be another tremendous contest in next week's Game 3.
"Game 3 is a different ball game," said Altamirano. "It's always a different game, don't expect that it will be the same. When we lost the first game, I said things will be different in the second came."
"And come the third game, it will be different again. Throw everything out," he added. "I think it will boil down sa kung sino ang makaka-assert sa sarili nila -- can we assert ourselves defensively, or can FEU assert themselves offensively?"
Belo, who scored only eight points in Game 1, finsihed with 17 points and six rebounds, but was mostly cuffed by the NU defense again. Tolomia scored 15 points on six-of-19 shooting. The FEU role players, who came up big in their Game 1 victory, were mostly silent this time around.
The Tamaraws won both of their elimination round games against the Bulldogs this season.
NU 62 - Rosario 19, Khobuntin 17, Alolino 12, Aroga 7, Diputado 2, Alejandro 2, Neypes 2, Javelona 1, Betayene 0, Perez 0.
FEU 47 - Belo 17, Tolomia 15, Inigo 7, Pogoy 4, Jose 2, Cruz 2, Hargrove 0, Dennison 0, Tamsi 0, Ru. Escoto 0, Denila 0, Lee Yu 0, Ugsang 0, Ri. Escoto 0, David 0.
Quarter-scoring: 18-6, 26-18, 43-30, 62-47.