For the second straight year, a fourth seed is headed to the finals. A block from the towering Alfred Aroga in the dying seconds would deny season MVP Kiefer Ravena the game-tying basket, giving the National University Bulldogs their first trip to the UAAP men’s basketball finals since 1970 and the 65-63 victory over first seed Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.
Both teams would struggle to score in the first quarter, with baskets from Nico Javelona and Troy Rosario being the only field goals scored in the first five minutes. A layup by Chris Newsome and a step-back triple from Kiefer Ravena would suddenly put Ateneo head, 6-5, halfway through the quarter. A fadeaway jumper from Alfred Aroga would give NU back the lead, but Newsome would respond in the other end to give Ateneo the lead, 8-7, with three minutes left on the clock. The Blue Eagles however would once more struggle to score, and baskets from Rosario and Aroga would give the Bulldogs the 12-8 edge after the first quarter.
The Blue Eagles would find themselves in a 13-23 hole in the first four minutes of the second quarter. A 9-1 rally led by Chris Newsome would trim the lead to 22-26, with three and half left on the clock. Glen Khobuntin would manage to lead a 6-0 rally by the Bulldogs to douse the fire, but Chris Newsome would manage to give the Blue Eagles one last to push late in the quarter, draining a breakaway three second before the halftime buzzer expired. 15 of Ateneo’s 27 first half points would come from the Ateneo forward. At the half, the Bulldogs would cling to the lead, 32-27.
The Blue Eagles would pull together offensively at the start of the third quarter, and after a couple of big baskets from Nico Elorde and Kiefer Ravena, they would manage to come within striking distance at 40-41. A jumper from Chris Newsome would give Ateneo the lead for the first time since the first quarter, 42-41, with four and a half left on the clock. The two squads would continue trading baskets and possession of the lead in the remaining minutes of the quarter. A basket from NU’s Troy Rosario would give NU the lead, 46-45, but Ateneo’s Von Pessumal would fire back on the other end, sinking the sneaky put-back to give Ateneo the lead heading into the final quarter, 47-46.
The two squads would resume the exchange of baskets well into the fourth quarter, with Kiefer Ravena, having shaken off his rocky start in the first half, leading the charge for Ateneo and Gelo Alolino holding the fort for the upset-hungry Bulldogs. Ateneo would hold on to the lead, 63-60, but a triple from Gelo Alolino would force the deadlock at 63-all entering the final two minutes of the game.
Both squads however would go cold in the following minute. With a little than thirty-seconds left on the clock, Ravena would pull up for the breakaway jumper and the lead, but the shot would end up bouncing off the rim. Gelo Alolino would try and go for the lead on the other end, but was fouled by Ateneo’s Nico Elorde. Alolino would go on to sink both free throws to give NU the 65-63 lead, with 9.3 left on the clock.
Shortly after Alolino’s free throws, some of the lights at the coliseum dimmed out. After an extended timeout, the officials announced that a twenty-minute break would be held to give the maintenance team sufficient time to remedy the situation, much to the annoyance of both schools’ crowds.
With Ateneo in possession after the extended break, Kiefer Ravena would manage to find the ball. Standing in his way however was NU bigman Alfred Aroga, who would send what could have been the game-saving ball flying from Ravena’s hands and into the sidelines. The NU bench would spill into the court in celebration, with the mammoth NU crowd cheering their hearts out.
Alfred Aroga led the Bulldogs with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Gelo Alolino had 12, while Glenn Khobuntin had 11. Chris Newsome led Ateneo with 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in his last performance as a Blue Eagle. Season MVP Kiefer Ravena meanwhile had 18.
“We have broken our Walls of Jericho kaya nandito na kami sa promised land. We’re going to play well, whoever we play,” said NU head coach Eric Altamirano had the post-game conference. “What got us to this point will get us to the next level.”
This is the second straight year a fourth seeded defeated a first seed to bag a slot in the finals. The University Santo Tomas Growling Tigers last year routed last year’s first seeds, who happened to be none other than NU. The Bulldogs last made the finals in 1970.
As of this writing, the Bulldogs are waiting for the victor of the 6pm knockout match between the Far Eastern University Tamaraws and the De La Salle University Green Archers.