AFTER 44 years, the National University (NU) after beating Ateneo De Manila University, 65-63, on Wednesday will return to the finals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippine (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.
The Bulldogs bagged the victory after playmaker Gelo Alolino sank two free throws with only nine seconds left in the game at the Araneta Coliseum.
Alolino, who posted 12 points and five rebounds was fouled by Ateneo’s Nico Elorde entitling NU to free throws with only 9.3 seconds remaining in the payoff period. It was at this point that the lights went out because of power fluctuation brought by heavy rains. The game resumed after 20 minutes.
Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena attempted to force a tie but his lay-up was blocked by 6’7 Alfred Aroga as the final buzzer sounded. The Cameroonian Aroga finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds plus two blocks for the Bulldogs.
Graduating player Glenn Khobuntin added 11 points and eight rebounds while center Troy Rosario contributed nine points and nine rebounds for NU that last won a UAAP championship in 1954. The school’s second best UAAP achievement was in 1970 when they finished second to University of the East.
“If you look back two weeks ago, this was far-fetched [entering the finals],” NU coach Eric Altamirano told reporters during a post-game interview. “We knew where they are going and I’m thankful to Alfred for that block against Kiefer. He bailed us out again.”
NU defeated Ateneo for the fourth time this season including two consecutive wins in the Final Four. Before reaching the semifinals, the Bulldogs also survived a playoff game against the University of the East Red Warriors.
The Bulldogs became just the second team in the UAAP since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994, to beat a top seeded team.
Last season, NU, led by Bobby Ray Parks Jr. was the No. 1 team in the Final Four, but No. 4 University of Santo Tomas beat them twice in the Final Four.