Justine Baltazar has been a cornerstone of De La Salle University dating back to UAAP Season 79, where he won the crown together with Ben Mbala and Jeron Teng.
Now playing in the final season of his collegiate career, the 25-year-old big man out of Pampanga won’t go down without putting up a fight with his squad’s playoff lives on the line.
With their backs against the wall versus University of the Philippines, Baltazar came out with a huge double-double headlined by 15 points and 18 rebounds. He also produced three assists and two blocks in 34:35 minutes of action.
Baltazar knew that his best effort was necessary in order for them to survive. At all costs, they had to force a rubber match against the second-seeded Fighting Maroons.
“Ayun nga sabi ni Coach (Derrick Pumaren) wala ng bukas ‘to eh, talagang bigay na namin ‘yung best namin,” he said.
“So ‘yun sobrang thankful talaga ako sa mga coaches kasi pinagtrabahuhan talaga nila ‘to so naging maganda ‘yung resulta.”
The soon-to-be three-time UAAP Mythical Team member also pointed out that the production must start with seniors like him, especially in a game that has much at stake for the Green Archers.
Evan Nelle played a significant role after contributing a career-high 26 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. Michael Phillips also had a solid game with seven points, 15 rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and an assist for DLSU.
Despite being threatened by UP late in the game, Baltazar and company managed to hold onto their lead for the remainder of the game. They eventually carved out an 83-80 victory.
“Last year ko na rin eh so kailangan sa’min talaga mag-start. Kailangan maganda ‘yung laro namin talaga dito eh para ‘yung mga rookies talaga dito mag-step up eh,” the 6-foot-7 forward said.
“Pinagtrabahuhan lang naman namin hanggang dulo, walang bumitaw talaga.”
After getting the crucial victory, DLSU head coach Derrick Pumaren believes that there is more work left for them to do in order to overcome their second-seeded opponents. He knows that he has to get his players ready as they expect the Fighting Maroons to bounce back and give them a tough fight in Friday’s do-or-die game.
“I think we believe that we just tied the series ‘no. Of course, the momentum will be on our side but we just have to make use of that advantage. We cannot just come in there and just play because we have that momentum,” the decorated mentor stressed. “I think we have to still work, we have to practice well tomorrow and prepare because we know UP is capable of coming back. They’re not the number two team if they’re not capable.
“We expect UP to come back. We expect UP to play a lot better on Friday but it is our job to hold that, to be able to counter, and react to what they will have.”