Frustrations reached its boiling point on National U as the Bulldogs endured a long dry spell in over a month, dropping six straight matches while precariously moving on the brink of missing the Final Four trip in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament.
National U, the title holders two years ago, suffered its worst stretch under coach Eric Altamirano as the Bulldogs suffered what could be a costly collapse midway in the double-round of eliminations.
The stretch saw NU turn an impressive 4-2 win-loss start by losing six straight games heading into the Halloween break.
Hard-pressed to stop the bleeding, the Bulldogs—from the coaches down to the players—tried to bring the best out from each other during their training sessions, but apparently caused some players to lose their tempers.
Two rotation players, rookie JV Gallego and wingman Nico Abatayo, didn’t show up in National U’s crucial 64-52 victory over fellow struggling University of the East on Saturday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum since “they are injured,” according to Altamirano.
The latest bump, however, could only spur the Bulldogs (5-8) collectively as they try to make one final push for the fourth and last semifinals berth which the Adamson Soaring Falcons (5-5) currently hold.
“Masyado na kaming maraming pinagdaanan. Siyempre andyan ‘yung nagkakainitan kami kasi sobrang competitive na ng mga practices namin. Lahat maiinit ang ulo, even the coaches and the players,” stressed Alejandro.
“‘Yung one week na ‘yun, parang one year sa amin. Ganun kahaba,” he said with a smile, trying his best to hide the pain that the Bulldogs endured since scoring an 80-69 win over University of the Philippines, another Final4 hopeful, last Oct. 1.
Even Altamirano readily disclosed how he tried to push the Bulldogs to the limit during the long mid-season respite.
“We stuck to the process and went back to the basics while finding our identity back. We did it the hard way. It was a hard week for us,” he stressed.
The Bulldogs, however, continued to struggle for the first 32 minutes against the Red Warriors.
But they finally played true to the form after going on a a telling 18-to-nothing in the stretch.
Matt Salem sizzled with a game-high 20 markers, 11 of them coming during their decisive run, while Alejandro, Reggie Morido, Cameroon import Alfred Aroga and rookie Chino Mosqueda provided the needed stability that allowed NU to pull away from UE with ease.
“They did their job, both offensively and defensively. They gave us the stability especially in the fourth quarter,” said Altamirano.
“Matt was able to hit some shorts. J-Jay and the other players like Reggie they tried to create some shots for their teammates. It was a collective effort.”
Alejandro, who dished out an all-around performance of 10 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals against a pair of errors in nearly 28 minutes of play, certainly savored having the winning feeling back.
“Na-miss namin manalo. Wala akong masabi,” he said. “Maraming pinagdaanan ang team this second round. Kaya proud ako sa mga nag-step up—starters, bench, everyone. Sabi ko sa last huddle namin ni Alfred, marami na kaming masyadong pinagdaanan.”
Although their hopes remain slim, the Bulldogs could only hope for the best as they close out their eliminations campaign against the Soaring Falcons on Nov. 13.
“Hindi na namin hawak ‘yung magiging kapalaran namin ngayon. Pero trabaho lang kami sa next game. Hopefully mabigay sa amin ni God,” said Alejandro, hoping he and the rest of NU teammates can put the bitter lessons into good use for tougher battles ahead.
“Bata man ‘yung mga players pero kailangan namin matutunan ang mga ‘to. Para sa future games, next season or Final 4. At least now, alam na namin ‘yung feeling na ganito. Next game, or Final 4 of next season, alam na namin kung paano bumalik.” – Jerome Lagunzad
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