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Altamirano, Bulldogs still looking for consistency

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The defending UAAP Men’s Basketball Champions, the National University Bulldogs, ended the first round with a 3-4 record, their worst start in four years.

The Bulldogs and last season’s runner-up the FEU Tamaraws figured in a defensive standstill in their first round encounter last Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. After a first half that saw the cagers from Jhocson Street limit the high-octane Tamaraw-offense to just 29 points on 50% shooting and forcing them to 11 turnovers for a 34-29 lead, National U was limited to just six third quarter points that eventually led to their fourth loss.

“We started out well. For some reason we were lethargic when we started the third quarter. That really killed us as we only scored six points. I felt FEU got their momentum from that stretch. So we got them back to the game,” NU head coach Eric Altamirano said after the game.

The Bulldogs’ league-leading defense, their bread and butter, contained the Tamaraws from breaking the game wide-open but the team’s offensive struggles halted any momentum the defending champions gained. Instead of attacking the paint, the Bulldogs forced themselves into contested jumpshots, ending up just 35% from that distance.Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Altamirano, Bulldogs still looking for consistency

This allowed FEU seniors Mac Belo and Mike Tolomia to get their bearings going. In two straight possessions and just 42 seconds apart, the NU defense relaxed for a bit that allowed Tolomia to convert on two long-range daggers during the crucial stages of the game. “When we got them going it was hard for us to stop them. Belo got going in the third. From then mahirap na, we played catch-up basketball. Then Tolomia got his bearing in the last two minutes, took those two three-point shots that gave them a cushion,” Altamirano recalled.

The catch-up basketball he was talking about also led to nerves getting the best for the defending champions as the team missed eight free throws in the fourth quarter, four in the last 3:26 of the game that could have changed the complexion of the game. “The eight missed free throws killed us also. Mahirap talaga pag naghahabol ka, then yung pressure to make free throws. So, nagsama-sama na sa dulo.”

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Altamirano, Bulldogs still looking for consistency    For Altamirano, he gave credit to the FEU defense for limiting them to just 40.68% shooting but for him and his coaching staff, there’s no one to blame for the loss but themselves. “You have to give it also to FEU. They tightened up their defense, they took away what we wanted to do,” he said. But quickly added that, “I felt that I did not see the energy in the third quarter, very lethargic kami. I felt that was not us, that’s not how we play.”

The problem that the head coach sees with the team right now is inconsistency. “There’s still some inconsistencies. Sabi ko nga sa boys kanina, ‘I think for us, we need to be consistent the entire game,’” he disclosed about the long talk he had with the players after the game. “We have to play consistent the entire 40 minutes. Talagang part of our loss today is our doing. Importante na we have to be consistent with what we do.”

The Bulldogs, though, only have two days to rest and practice as they immediately have to start their second round campaign on Saturday, October 10 against the UE Red Warriors. According to Altamirano, each game from here on out is do-or-die for them. “Ang importante sa amin ngayon is to just focus. We don’t want to dwell on it. We just have to focus on our upcoming games. We have to win the games that we can win. Then, hopefully get some upsets para makabalik kami sa upper bracket.”

“There has to be a sense of urgency,” he closed.

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