The National University Bulldogs are the top defensive team in the 78th season of the UAAP Men’s Basketball tournament.
With Alfred Aroga anchoring the defense, and a plethora of excellent wing defenders at the helm, the Bulldogs have only allowed 64.6 points by their opponents through 12 games this season. So why in the world are the Bulldogs sitting at the fifth spot in the standings, with a 5-7 slate? The defending UAAP champions lack the offensive firepower, producing 65.8 points per game as a team.
The offensive struggles of NU were amplified after embarrassing losses against the FEU Tamaraws, the UE Red Warriors, and the Ateneo Blue Eagles. In those losses, Eric Altamirano’s squad averaged just 8.6 points in the third quarter that ultimately doomed their team.
The current leading scorers for the Bulldogs are not really scorers in general. Gelo Alolino, who has averaged 13.6 markers so far, is a pass-first guard, while Alfred Aroga, 12.8 points per outing, is a defensive anchor. Meanwhile, the player supposed to carry the team’s scoring mantle, third-year wing Jay Alejandro, struggled in the first round.
“We’ve been here before but this season we have to create our own miracle. I believe that everything that happens, it happens for a reason,” Coach Eric Altamirano said about the current standing of his team. The team’s “miracle” for its offensive struggles finally showed up in the second round.
Alejandro, after posting norms of just seven points on a horrible 29% clip after the first round, is now carrying the UAAP Season 77 champions to a second round push. In five games in the second round, Alejandro has upped his averages to 12 points on a 42% shooting clip. Moreover, he averaged 1.4 three pointers during that stretch, and was more aggressive at the charity stripe, having already attempted 20 free throws in the second round – nine attempts more than his entire first round outing combined.
With their backs against the wall, the 6’0 scoring machine notched a career-high 25 points, including three three-pointers, in a crucial win against La Salle. The win not only gave NU a crack at the last Final Four spot, but also gave the former Batang Gilas member his confidence back.
Altamirano knows that Alejandro is a vital part for NU’s Final Four hopes. “Kelangan talaga namin yung contribution ni Jay. Sabi ko nga e puputok at puputok talaga si Jay, it was only a matter of time. We always believed in him and it is happening now,” he said.
“Every time he plays well for us it becomes a lot easier for us. Sometimes our defense is there but we lack the offensive firepower. Every time he plays like that, everything becomes easier.” And by easier, Altamirano means that the ball moves better on the offensive end for the reigning champions. In their wins against Adamson and La Salle, the Bulldogs were able to assist on 34 field goals they made, more than half of the 60 field goals they made in those two games.
Alejandro knows this and is simply responding to the needs of his team. “Yung mindset ko lang is kung ano ang maitutulong sa team, gagawin ko lang,” he said. He added that he ‘sees’ the floor and the rim better compared to the first round.
As coach Altamirano said, everything happens for a reason. Alejandro’s early season struggles may have just been the wake-up call he needed, as he is finally showing what he is truly capable of.