MANILA, Philippines – For the third year in a row, National University (NU) will miss the UAAP Final 4.
The Bulldogs, touted as contenders in the preseason thanks to their youthful but talented line-up, were formally eliminated from the semifinals race on Wednesday, after a sorry 84-77 loss to De La Salle University. That defeat dropped them to 3-9 in the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament.
But the Bulldogs' Final 4 hopes had been hanging by a thread all throughout the second round after they won just twice in their first seven games.
For Jarin, their loss to La Salle was "the story of the season." The Bulldogs hung around in the first three quarters, and were still within striking distance until the final stretch of the game. But they had no answer for La Salle's end-game poise, and the Green Archers pulled away in the final two minutes.
"Almost all of our games, we're all there. We're playing well, then all of a sudden, bad shots, bad breaks, couldn't get a break," said Jarin.
Jarin, who is in his second season as NU head coach, is admittedly disappointed with how their season played out. Much was expected of the Bulldogs, thanks to the addition of top recruits like Dave Ildefonso and John Lloyd Clemente.
But the Bulldogs never put everything together, and their youth hampered them in close games when they struggled to execute against more experienced, more mature teams.
"It's been very disappointing," says Jarin. "But again, I take full responsibility for it, because we have a young team, so we just have to be patient with all the things we need to do."
"Of course, we could have done better, we could have done that, and I take all the blame for that, I take full responsibility for that," he added.
Yet even as he lamented their shortcomings in Season 81, Jarin also expressed his hope for the upcoming years.
"As you can see, you got a very good future in front of you. Not only NU basketball but Philippine basketball, in particular, because of John Lloyd Clemente, Dave Ildefonso, Josh Sinclair," said the coach.
"These are the things that you get up in the morning, and be excited to work with them. Because, every day, every time you wake up, it's a day that they mature, these young men," he explained.
Ildefonso has certainly established himself as one of the best young players in the UAAP, and shown that he was ready to contribute from Day 1. The former Ateneo Blue Eaglet is currently averaging a team-best 16 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Clemente, a highly touted product of NU's high school program, took a while to get going, but has been solid in the second round. He exploded for 17 points in the first half against La Salle on Wednesday, and is currently averaging 11.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Jarin's hope is for all these talents to mesh, and for his young players to mature – and quickly. Already, the veteran mentor is talking of a breakthrough next season for the Bulldogs.
"Hopefully, we get it done, get over the hump, and next time we're gonna talk, we're talking about the Final 4, and possibly the finals next year," he said.
The Bulldogs will wrap up their Season 81 schedule against Far Eastern University and University of the East.
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