National University and University of the East should no longer take lightly as they now stand as equals with perennial contenders in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament.
Tired of just looking at the backs of the more fancied teams, the two squads carved what could be the biggest upsets so far in Season 85 of the men’s basketball tournament Wednesday.
“This is a big deal for us. I told them we must beat the big boys to be recognized,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Napa said after NU nicked the once pristine record of defending champion University of the Philippines, 80-75, at the packed Mall of Asia Arena.
The Bulldogs not only proved that their pre-season win over the Fighting Maroons was no fluke but it also put an end to a seven-game head-to-head slump over UP.
Omar John led the way for NU with an impressive stat line of 16 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, three assists and a pair of steals.
Napa challenged his team to prove that they also have the right to be called title contenders.
“Everybody’s talking about them (crown favorites). So, I challenged my team, ‘If you want to become a member of the big boys, you have to challenge yourself to prove that you’re one of the big boys,’” Napa said.
NU responded positively as it climbed to a share of the lead at 3-1 win-loss record tied with UP and Season 84 runner-up Ateneo de Manila University.
The Bulldogs’ win over the Fighting Maroons was so impressive that it inspired an even bigger shocker.
Just hours after, it was the Red Warriors who stole the spotlight with a stunning 81-74 victory over one of the league’s top teams in De La Salle University.
UE head coach Jack Santiago bared that his wards drew inspiration from the Bulldogs.
“My boys were inspired by the win of NU over UP. Let’s say that game was an upset so we just did what we could to also score one by beating La Salle.
The Red Warriors frustrated the Green Archers, who were coming off a win over archrival Blue Eagles last Sunday, to tie their victims at 2-2 slate.
Brothers Niko and Kyle Paranada rallied UE to its first win over La Salle since Rey Suerte sank the game-winning basket in the Red Warriors’ 89-88 win back on 14 September 2019.
“This is what I have been telling my boys, that we need to beat a strong team not only to be recognized but to level up our game,” Santiago said.
UE now looks to continue its momentum on Sunday when it takes on the struggling University of Santo Tomas.
“Hopefully, we can carry the momentum of our win against La Salle in our next game against UST,” Santiago said.