Still within striking distance for a Final Four berth, Jose Rizal U intends to do better in the second round of the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney that gets going next week.
And Cameroon import Abdoulad Poutouochi knows he’ll continue to play a pivotal role for the Heavy Bombers if they want to keep their semifinals hopes burning—and possibly steer long-time coach Vergel Meneses to his first-ever NCAA finals appearance.
The 6-foot-5 Poutouochi somehow lived up to the dominant form expected from him by Meneses on Tuesday when he helped JRU stun previously unbeaten San Beda 79-73 and close its first-round campaign on a strong note, gaining a share of sixth spot with a 4-5 mark.
Poutouochi did his best to hold his ground against San Beda counterpart Donald Tankoua, his fellow Cameroonian, coming through with a double-double performance of 14 points and 12 rebounds, six of them on the offensive end, on top of a game-high three steals, providing JRU the needed inside presence.
Meneses, 47, however, admitted he’s far from satisfied with the latest performance of Poutouochi, knowing it’s still far from his full potential.
“Kulang pa. Mahirap ako i-satisfy, bro,” Meneses told a sports scribe during the post-match interview. “I know the capacity of the players. Alam ko ang galing nila. That’s why I keep on telling them and I keep on yelling at them.”
Then Meneses turned his attention to Poutouochi, who he felt dominated his counterparts from the pro league’s Mahindra during their tuneup match.
“Nakita ko rin naman kung paano siya maglaro against Mahindra. He dominated everybody there. It should be easier for him here because it’s NCAA and those (Enforcers) are professional players,” he said.
Poutouochi echoed Meneses’ notion, saying: “Coach is right because I didn’t bring what I usually bring when I’m playing with my teammates in general. I always find myself in foul trouble. It’s penalizing my team and my playing time that’s having a huge impact on the game and the result.”
Now that he might have gained a needed tonic, Poutouochi vowed to play true to his form come the second round of eliminations.
“My teammates have a lot of trust and the belief on what I can bring to the game. From now, until the rest of the tournament, you’re gonna see a different Abdoul,” he said.
“Now I’m progressively finding a way to defend clearly because I’m always using my hands. Now I’m learning progressively how to defend better and I’m okay now.”
While JRU remains two-full games behind Mapua (6-3) for the fourth and final spot, Poutouochi feels they still have ample time to duplicate the strong finish that enabled them to reach the Final Four last year.
“Everything has a beginning. We still have 10 games to win and it’s still possible that we can make it,” he said.
Meneses could only hope for the better. “Instead of landing to eighth spot, maganda na rin naman ang posisyon namin. We’ll take it one game at a time pagdating ng second round. Just like what happened last year and two years ago, baka ito yung destiny ng JRU,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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