This was not the season that National University had in mind.
After falling short against La Salle on Wednesday, the Bulldogs have now been eliminated from Final Four contention — a formality, given how much ground they needed to cover just to keep up with three teams ahead of them in the standings.
But they did put up quite an admirable fight before falling. There was still a glimmer of daylight, anyway, and winning against the Archers meant that they could live to fight for another day.
NU played like they had that fact in mind. They started strong, outscored La Salle by 27-21 in the second quarter — thanks to a 14-point explosion from John Lloyd Clemente — and led by two. 40-38, at the half.
Their foes then flipped the tables on them in the next two quarters as the Bulldogs worked to claw their way back into the game. After a personal 7-0 run by Dave Ildefonso cut the Green Archers’ lead to just 75-74 with over four minutes remaining, NU failed to get a bucket and couldn’t contain a late La Salle onslaught to finish the game.
“It’s the story of the season eh. Almost all of our games were all there, then all of a sudden just bad shots, bad breaks, couldn’t get a break. La Salle just took advantage of it, made some tough shots. We missed some tough shots and that was the game,” head coach Jamike Jarin lamented.
Looking for Clemente on the offensive end in the second half could have helped their cause. After putting up 17 big points on 6-for-7 attempts in the first half, the rookie was only able to muster two points on two shots for the rest of the game.
Jarin credited the Archers’ defense for shadowing him, but he was upset with how the rest of the team failed to get him going.
“We didn’t say na sinadya not to look for him, it’s just maybe the immaturity and inexperience of other players,” he explained.
“They kept looking at him in the first half and then they didn’t look at him. He made all these 17 points because his teammates looked for him. Then all of a sudden in the second half, they didn’t look for him. These are the things that we need to work on. It’s called consistency and maturity.”
With only FEU and UE left on their radar, the only thing that the Bulldogs can do now is to use these games an opportunity to grow — for the players to be better individuals and for the team to be a more cohesive unit.
The multi-titled head coach takes the blame for most of the young team’s struggles again, but he assures that the time will come when there won’t be any need for him to do that anymore — with the help of his young core, whom he calls the ‘future’ of NU and Philippine basketball, no less.
“It’s been very disappointing especially this year, but again, I take full responsibility for it. We have a young team, so we just have to be patient with all the things that we need to do. Of course, we could’ve done better.”
“But as you can see, you’ve got a very good future in front of you. Not only [for] NU basketball, but [for] Philippine basketball in particular, because of John Lloyd Clemente, Dave Ildefonso, [and] Josh Sinclair. 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,” he expounded.
Jarin’s even hinting at the idea of making a run at a championship next year, too.
“Hopefully, we get it done and get over the hump, and the next time we’re gonna talk, we’re talking about the Final Four and probably the Finals next year,” he noted.