National University’s cinderella run ended on Wednesday at the hands of University of the Philippines with a painful 69-61 defeat to bow out of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball Finals contention.
The Bulldogs looked prime to disarm the Fighting Maroons of their twice-to-beat edge. Kean Baclaan’s heater had put them up by three with 3:03 left on the match after trailing by nine entering the fourth, 61-58.
But UP banked on the heroics of guards Gerry Abadiano, JD Cagulangan, and Terrence Fortea to end the game with 11 unanswered points.
“Hats off sa UP, they came out talaga na… Ano ba yun, yung experience, championship composure. That’s why they’re called defending champion eh. Dahil ayun nga. yung adversities sa ganon situations. nabuhat ng mga beterano nila,” said NU head coach Jeff Napa.
“Malungkot siyempre kami. Hindi naman totally disappointed, so sad lang na natapos kaagad yung run namin ngayon,” added Napa.
During the season’s kickoff press conference, only Adamson head coach Nash Racela mentioned NU as a team to beat.
But the Bulldogs clawed their way up and exceeded expectations to enter the Final Four in third behind a 9-5 win-loss card.
“At least na experience namin ito. Medyo masakit pero ayun nga, still a good run. Nobody expected us to be here in this situation na kalaban yung UP eh,” added Napa.
Talking about how proud is he of his boys, the fiery mentor became emotional.
Napa played college ball at NU and once scored 43 points in a single game. Truly, he’s an NU icon.
“Alam ko naman [na] everybody, hindi kami [binilang] agad doon sa [Final Four] eh. At least yung mga bata naniwala muna na kaya nila. So yun nga, we will try again next season,” said the Bulldogs tactician, who took over the program when Goldwin Monteverde left the program in 2020. “Pero yun nga yung sinabi ko na at least, although we came up short… Kumbaga pinrove niyo sa ibang tao na hindi na kayo losers.
“I’m very proud na we turned things around. Dati kaming losers, now we became winners na although we fell short.”
National U’s core will remain intact come Season 86, as only Germy Mahinay and Jonas Tibayan have exhausted their eligibility years.
Also looking to boost the Bulldogs will be highly-touted guard LA Casinillo, who trained in the United Kingdom for two years. He was also the 2019 CESAFI juniors MVP.
“Yun yung challenge ko sa kanila next year. You put yourselves in these situations maybe next year you should be ready na. Dahil hindi na kayo babasta-bastahin, talagang ilu-look up na kayo na isa kayo sa contenders na,” Napa said.