From the brink of elimination, the National University Bulldogs have returned to the thick of the UAAP Final Four race—and they have an unlikely hero to thank for it.
J-Jay Alejandro has mostly flown under the radar in Season 78, with point guard Gelo Alolino and center Alfred Aroga doing the bulk of the scoring for the defending champion Bulldogs. Yet when they needed it most, Alejandro displayed his explosive scoring ability and powered NU to a much-needed victory.
Against a La Salle team that is also vying for a spot in the semifinals, Alejandro fired a career-high 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting, while also adding three rebounds for an 81-73 NU victory last Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
What made his performance all the more impressive was that 17 of his 25 points came in the fourth quarter, when he made five of his six attempts from the field. During one stretch midway through the final frame, he scored all 14 points in a 14-3 NU run that gave the Bulldogs a 65-58 lead. “Kailangan ko mag-step up,” Alejandro said after his sensational performance. “Si Pao (Javelona), foul trouble, tapos na-sprain pa si Kyle (Neypes), so siguro, ‘yung mindset ko lang is kung ano ang maitutulong sa team, gagawin ko lang.”
Alejandro’s full offensive arsenal was in display in the fourth quarter, as he torched La Salle with three three-pointers and kept his defenders off-balance with nifty drives to the basket. “Nakakakita lang talaga ako ng openings. Siguro, right place at the right time lang talaga,” Alejandro said.
Thanks to his impressive scoring spree, Alejandro earned the ACCEL Quantum/3XVI-UAAP Press Corps Player of the Week award.
NU head coach Eric Altamirano was full of praise for Alejandro, who was only averaging 6.36 points per game before his timely explosion against the Green Archers. “Every time he plays well for us, it’s a lot easier for us,” Altamirano said of Alejandro. “Sometimes, our defense is there, but we lack the offensive firepower. Every time he contributes like that, it really makes it easier for us.”
With Alejandro upping his game, the Bulldogs have been rejuvenated entering the final stretch of the elimination round and they are now just half a game behind La Salle for the last spot in the semifinals. “Alam naman ni Jay ang role niya sa team, and he’s really doing it to the hilt. Siya ‘yung spark namin ngayon, so we’ll ride on his back right now,” said Altamirano.
Alejandro bested two FEU giants for this week’s crown:
Russel Escoto, Far Eastern University
Week Average: 13 PPG, 50% FG%, 4 RPG, 1 SPG
Win over: Adamson
Raymar Jose, Far Eastern University
Week Average: 12 PPG, 83% FG%, 100% FT%, 7 RPG
Win over: Adamson
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