The National University Bulldogs breezed through the second-seeded UST squad to extend their season in a four-set win, 26-24, 28-26, 23-25, 25-21 at the Mall of Asia Arena. This has them sitting in unfamiliar territory after the elimination phase, holding on to third in the rankings.
Both teams rushed to a closely-fought opening canto with no team leading by more than three points, and this was the theme throughout the game. UST and NU had the taste of the lead entering the first and second technical timeouts of the match, respectively. The exchanges between the two piled up in multiple plays on both offense and defense.
The Tigers led 24-22 and were a point away from taking the opener. However, errors haunted them late in the game as NU snatched the set away, giving the defending champions a 1-0 set lead.
UST opened things up sharper in the second period as they entered the first technical timeout up 8-5. However, the Bulldogs responded with a 9-4 counter to gain the upper hand in the second set. It was Jan Paglinawan who made three of those points through spikes. The Bulldogs greatly extended their lead by four points, due to their net defense playing a huge factor in the stretch.
Off a timeout, Mark Alfafara started scoring to keep UST close, as he scattered three of the next five points to push his team into retaking the lead. With UST two points away from making the match even at a set apiece, Peter Torres stepped up to score on two powerful spikes to tie things up anew.
After a see-saw exchange in the extension, Torres dropped the ball to a wide open spot against UST’s scattered defense to give the Bulldogs a 26-25 lead. Afterwards, Romnick Rico scored for another deadlock. Looking to finally end the set, NU brought out a triple block against UST’s spikers. On the ensuing play, Arnold Bautista’s free ball attempt went wide.
UST had another strong start in the third set as they built a quick 8-5 lead, when their spikes started finding their marks. Despite NU chipping in points to make it a close game, UST went exclusively to Alfafara as he delivered the offense against the blockers from NU. Alfafara scored on four straight points including an ace to give UST an 18-15 edge.
With UST once again two points away from claiming a set, Torres nailed the necessary attacks to make the game closer. NU tied things up at 23-all with Torres and Rueben Inaudito scoring in the clutch. This time however, Alfafara and the Tigers made sure that the set was theirs as they ended the third frame up by two, sealed with a huge rejection at the end.
The Bulldogs were on fire in the fourth set as they established a comfortable lead against the Tigers. They led 13-8 as the quick attacks and drop balls were finding the spots for multiple markers. UST kept on chipping points to trim the gap, but they could not find a good rhythm as service errors kept them from building momentum.
After the second technical timeout with NU ahead, the feisty Tiger Spikers still dialed in points despite an exhausted Alfafara. With reception not working for UST and Alfafara’s back row spikes sailing wide, NU reached match point. UST was able to save a match point, but they couldn’t stop Vince Mangulabnan’s one-handed game-winning drop ball, which allowed NU to force the rubber match on Saturday.
The close match ended with UST leading the spiking department, 62-59, and both teams scoring five points each on service aces. NU had more blocks, 12-10, and committed less errors, 19-26.
Alfafara filled the stat sheet as he tallied a monstrous 37-point outing, 34 of which came from attacks. Bautista, on the other hand, tallied 18 for UST including two blocks.
For the winners NU, four Bulldogs scored in double figures led by Torres and Paglinawan, who each had 19 points. In addition, Torres had four rejections to anchor the net defense displayed by the defending champions.
NU(3) – Torres 19, Paglinawan 19, Inaudito 17, Baysac 12, Tolentino 6, Mangulabnan 2, Ismail 0, Tipay(L) 0, Dizon(L) 0
UST(1) – Alfafara 37, Bautista 14, Balse 8, Rico 8, Sarabia 5, Tajanlangit 3, Arbasta 1, Guzman 1, Castillo 0, Pangan(L) 0, Francisco 0