Staying unsolvable, defending champions National University Bulldogs rolled past the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-18, in Game One of the UAAP Season 81 Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
NU, who dropped their opening day match to FEU, blazed to their 15th consecutive win and came within a game of their second straight UAAP championship – their fourth overall.
Each of the three sets was close. NU surrendered a two-point first set lead, allowing FEU to go on a 6-0 run and take an 18-14 lead. From there, FEU’s blocking staved off any NU run.
The next two sets had FEU struggle mightily in the crucial moments. Losing hold of an early 8-4 lead, the Tamaraws’ offense fell silent and opened the door for NU to take the set via a late 5-1 spurt. After tying the third set at 23, FEU gave the Bulldogs the 2-1 sets lead with back-to-back errors.
NU then dominated the fourth set, starting with a 4-0 lead which eventually ballooned to seven, 20-13. FEU tried to rally, coming within four, 20-16. But NU’s Bryan Bagunas and Kim Malabunga quickly snuffed out their run for the victory.
Bulldogs head coach Dante Alinsunurin admitted his team needed to adjust to FEU’s offensive schemes, and it took them out of the first set.
“Medyo nagka-problema lang kami noong first set sa adjustment sa ginagawa ng kalaban. Mabuti na lang, pagdating ng second hanggang fourth set, naka-recover na kami,” said Alinsunurin.
“Sana ma-maintain namin hanggang sa next game. Maganda yung naging tapos nitong game para sa amin, kailangan ganoon kami from start to finish sa Game Two,” the national team mentor added.
Graduating winger Bagunas topped all scorers with 18 points from 16 attacks, a block, and an ace. Meanwhile, fourth-year opposite hitter JM Natividad added 16 points.
Skipper Richard Solis led the Tamaraws with 17 points. Middle blocker JP Bugaoan added 14 markers off 10 blocks and four aces.
The Bulldogs can clinch the title on Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
NU (3) – Bagunas 18, Natividad 16, Gampong 10, Malabnunga 10, Saura 7, Almendras 2, Retamar 1, Ancheta 0, Marcos (L)
FEU (1) – Solis 17, Bugaoan 14, Garcia 9, Paler 7, Quiel 6, Suarez 2, Calado 1, Silang 1, Padon 0, Barrica (L), Lorezo (L)