Prized rookie Master Mendoza delivered a debut performance to remember on Thursday as Bulacan State University defeated University of Batangas, 89-86 to set its Universities and Colleges Basketball League (UCBL) Season 2 title bid in motion at the Olivarez College gym in Sucat, Parañaque City.
With their rivals’ defense mainly focused on reigning league MVP Dominick Fajardo, the 5-foot-10 Mendoza took the cudgels in the final canto, pumping in seven of his game-high 22 points that enabled the Gold Gears to recover their bearings and hold off the gritty Brahman side.
“It’s far from impressive but we will take it,” said BulSU coach Antonino Tayao, heaving a big sigh of relief after seeing the Gold Gears squander a lead as high as 10 points to outsteady the Brahman during a tight finish.
“My players visibly felt the pressure since this is the opening day. Most of them are rookies and are still making the adjustments. That’s why I am not that surprised how tough it is pulling off this win.”
The lefty Mendoza hardly showed any kind of opening day jitters as he played brilliantly on both ends underscored by six steals—another game-high—on top of four rebounds, and three assists in more than 37 minutes of tireless play.
Mendoza was at his best in the final canto when he provided the spark in a decisive 8-1 run that allowed BulSU to break free from a 73-all count and regain full control going to the final three minutes of play.
UB, however, refused to easily roll down and die as Don Tabol and Jerrick Caspe nailed back-to-back triples to pull within two points, only to see Mendoza score three straight points and Jan Jauco bank in a hook shot that kept BulSU’s head above water in the closing stages.
“I told my players that Dominck cannot do it all by his lonesome. They have to step up and find a way to help our MVP,” added Tayao, who still got a solid 20-point, seven-rebound performance from Fajardo, an undersized big man standing at 6-foot-1.
Going down the drain with UB’s painful loss was Cameroon big man Raoul Yemeli’s monster performance of 20 points, 17 rebounds and three assists.
BulSU 89 — Mendoza 22, Fajardo 20, Dela Cruz 13, Cristobal 12, Necio 8, Jauco 5, Crisostomo 4, Sellano 2, Solayao 2, Ledesma Jr. 1, Mendoza 0.
UB 86 — Yemeli 20, Caspe 13, Castro 11, Gotam 11, Alade 7, Espiritu 7, Tabol 7, Arcilla 4, Heidelburg 4, Gabriel 2.
Quarterscores: 24-19; 45-40; 67-60; 89-86.