The National University Bulldogs cruised to their eighth win in the men’s basketball tournament after putting up one of the most impressive defensive performances in the season so far, shutting down the upset-hungry University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 66-51, Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter, with UP failing to find easy inside baskets due to NU’s terrific inside defense put up by towers of power, Alfred Aroga and Henri Betayene. The Bulldogs found themselves struggling with outside jumpers, with 13 of NU’s 15 first quarter points coming from shots in the paint. UP on the other hand could only come up with eight points.
Though the Bulldogs would still struggle to score from the perimeter, Nico Javelona’s five points in the quarter would help NU widen the gap. With JR Gallarza and Mikee Reyes unable to find their touch, the Maroons would only manage to put nine more points. NU would enter halftime with a 29-17 lead, with 22 coming from the inside.
The second half however would open on a high note for UP, with JR Gallarza ushering in the third quarter with four straight points from two free throws and a fastbreak layup to cut the lead to eight, 29-21. However, it was the Bulldogs who would dominate the next few minutes, holding down UP to only three more points while managing to bring the lead to fifteen, 41-24 halfway through the quarter. Shock three-pointers from Troy Rosario and Rev Diputado would rake in the points for NU, and by the end of the quarter, it was clear that both teams had finally shaken off the nightmare of the first half’s terrible offense. Though the Maroons would finally score in double digits for the quarter, the Bulldogs still had the lead, 50-32, entering the final period of the ballgame.
The Bulldogs would however prove unstoppable in the fourth quarter. NU would hold UP to only one field goal in the first five minutes of the period, while continuing to dominate the offensive glass with help from Alfred Arroga and Glen Khobuntin. With only three minutes remaining on the clock, the Bulldogs led the Maroons 62-39. The Maroons would manage to trim the lead in the final minutes, with Mikee Reyes finally finding his touch, scoring 10 points in the quarter after struggling for most of the game. However, the damage was already done, and the Bulldogs would walk away with the win.
Alfred Arroga led the Bulldogs off the bench with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Troy Rosario, Gelo Alolino, and Glenn Khobuntin contributed nine points apiece. Mikee Reyes led the scoring for UP with 13 points along with 3 assists, shaking off scoring troubles in the first three quarters. Henry Asilum and JR Gallarza chipped in 11 and 9 points respectively. The Bulldogs dominated the Maroons inside of the paint, putting up 46 inside points while holding the Maroons to 14.
With the win, the Bulldogs stay ahead of the University of the East Red Warriors in the race for a spot in the final four.