Confronted with the biggest adversity they’ve faced in their two-year reign, the Bulldogs just did not have an answer as they got wrecked, 20-25, 16-25, 27-25, 16-25, by the surging Ateneo Blue Eagles at the San Juan Arena.
Last year’s bridesmaids Ateneo were bolstered by a marvelous performance from reigning MVP Marck Espejo who drove in 26 points with seven block kills. He amassed those points on a highly efficient 18-for-34 spiking clip, the second most efficient display behind Mark Alfafara’s first round outburst against DLSU.
The Eagles came out of the gates with guns blazing, puncturing the vaunted Nationalian blocking barricade by feeding the ball to their heavy hitters. Ateneo’s multiple service errors allowed the Bulldogs to keep pace, eventually placing the set at a 19-all tilt. From there, the Bulldogs came apart, conceding all but one of the following points to give the first set to the Eagles.
The second set saw an uninspired effort from the defending champs, as they seemingly invited Ateneo’s attackers to rain spikes all over them. Not only was their net defense ineffective, but the Bulldogs’ offense also failed to gain any steam, coughing up multiple unforced errors before the third contact. If it weren’t for Ateneo’s continued futility from the service area, the Bulldogs would not have crossed 15 points for the set.
NU put forth a better outing with their backs against the wall. NU’s veterans showed signs of life and battled to keep pace with the Eagles. The teams played hot potato with the lead before the Eagles grabbed a 23-19 advantage. NU unloaded a late push from there, tying the game at 23 with a revitalized effort at the net. More service errors from Ateneo extended the set into a deuce which eventually cost them the set.
The fourth frame had the wheels completely come off the feared NU locomotive as lackadaisical blocking and reception early opened the door for Ateneo to build an insurmountable lead. All Bulldog comeback efforts proved too late as the boys from Katipunan simply outclassed the two-time champs.
Ateneo’s 58-34 spiking display was enough to power them through the 35 errors they gave up. The Blue Eagles also out-blocked the league’s best blocking team, netting 13 block kills to NU’s nine.
With the win, Ateneo climbs to the top of the standings with an 8-2 record after starting the season at 1-2 while NU drops to fourth with a 7-3 slate.
The Bulldogs will face the seventh place DLSU spikers on Feb. 4 while Ateneo has the UP Fighting Maroons next on Feb. 7.
Ateneo- Espejo 26, Marasigan 16, Intal 12, Villanueva 10, Rivera I. 8, Polvorosa 2, Posadas 0, Rivera B. (L) 0
NU- Tolentino 12, Inaudito 9, Torres 5, Ismail 5, Mangulabnan 5, Malabunga 3, Paglinawan 3, Baysac 1, Capal 1, Tipay (L) 0, Dizon (L) 0