Red-hot Salem helps NU stop bleeding, stays in Final 4 hunt

Sweet-shooting forward Matt Salem waxed hot in the final canto as National U repeated over University of the East on Saturday, 64-52, to stop a six-game bleeding in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

The 6-foot-3 Salem provided the spark offensively as he fired away three triples that ignited a telling 18-to-nothing run in a six-minute stretch in the payoff period, allowing the Bulldogs to pull away from the Red Warriors while keeping their Final Four hopes alive.

“It’s been a long time after a long dry spell for us,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano, heaving a big sigh of relief after the Bulldogs notched their first victory in over a month and improved to 5-8, staying hot on the heels of the Adamson Soaring Falcons (5-5) for the fourth and final semifinals spot.

Meanwhile, UE suffered its fourth straight loss and 10th overall in 12 matches, formally eliminating the Red Warriors from Final Four contention.

Salem led a balanced attack with a game-high 20 points, 11 of them coming in the final frame, while Cameroon import Alfred Aroga pumped in a double-double performance of 11 markers and 14 rebounds on top of two blocks but it was the NU’s calling card—a stymieing defense—that did the trick in asserting its mastery over UE, which it also defeated 72-66 last Sept. 7.

“We played good defense especially in the fourth canto,” Altamirano readily acknowledged after the Bulldogs limited the Red Warriors to just seven marks in the stretch. “We were able to assert ourselves, we’re making stops.”

Going down the drain with the Red Warriors’ latest setback was the first double-double output by rookie Alvin Pasaol, who tallied 10 points and as many rebounds on top of two assists and a pair of blocks in 25 minutes of play off the bench. – By Jerome Lagunzad

The scores:

NU 64 – Salem 20, Aroga 11, Mosqueda 11, Alejandro 10, Morido 6, Rangel 4, Diputado R 2, Yu 0, Salim 0, Diputado C 0, Pate 0
UE 52 – Pasaol 10, Manalang 7, Bartolome 6, Abanto 6, Varilla 5, Batiller 5, Derige 4, Charcos 3, Olayon 2, Gagate 2, Acuno 2, De Leon 0, Palma 0
Quarterscores: 9-12, 32-32, 44-45, 64-52.