National University and Ateneo de Manila University flaunted their deadly forms, proving that they are serious and determined to win the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 86 men’s basketball title.
The Bulldogs bared their fangs as they pulled off a masterful 68-49 victory over University of the East while the reigning champion Blue Eagles delivered a 97-77 beating of University of Santo Tomas on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In the third game, Far Eastern University clawed back from an early deficit to stun Adamson University in a low-scoring affair, 49-46.
With the game knotted at 43-all with two minutes left, L-Jay Gonzales, the hero of the Tamaraws victory over Ateneo last Saturday, carried his team on his back by scoring on back-to-back buckets to put FEU ahead, 47-43.
Joem Sabandal then brought Adamson to within a point, thanks to a three-point shot with less than 12 seconds left, 46-47.
But Royce Alforque calmly sank two clutch free throws for the final count, 49-46, to give the Tamaraws their second consecutive win and rise to 2-4 to forge a tie with University of the East at the sixth to seventh spots.
Omar John and Jake Figueroa bannered the assault to help the Bulldogs secure their third straight victory and fifth win in their first six matches.
With the victory, the Bulldogs are breathing down the neck of University of the Philippines, which is risking its perfect 5-0 card against De La Salle University at press time.
John and Figueroa dropped identical numbers of 12 points and 10 rebounds apiece for the Bulldogs, who took their sweet time in the first quarter as they allowed the Red Warriors score 21 points before putting on the defensive clamps and limiting them to only four points in the second quarter to dictate the tempo the rest of the way.
The lead even ballooned to as many as 21 points, 68-47, off a Steve Nash Enriquez three-pointer in the final 40 seconds of the match that suddenly turned into a lopsided affair.
Despite the impressive win, NU coach Jeff Napa warned his wards against complacency, saying that their job is still far from done as they have very little time to recover when they face Adamson University on Saturday at the UST Quadricentennial Pavilion.
“We can’t relax. We have to shift our focus to Adamson. Their coach, Nash Racela, is very disciplined and we have to be ready against them on Saturday,” said Napa, expressing regret over their sluggish first-quarter performance.
“I’m just 40 percent satisfied with their performance today because we gave up 21 points in the first quarter. We sent a wrong message to our opponents and we had to address that.”
On the contrary, the Blue Eagles had an easier time against a struggling UST side.
Chris Koon took advantage of the Growling Tigers’ sloppy defense as he fired 21 points to helm the defending champions to their third win in six matches.
After holding a risky four-point lead in the final stretch of the third period, Koon engineered a 7-1 rally to rip the game wide open, 70-59, in the fourth quarter.
Gilas Pilipinas standout Mason Amos knocked down a three-pointer in the final 1:21 to give the Blue Eagles a massive 21-point deficit, 94-73.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin was happy over their performance, saying that they are really ready for their titanic clash against the Fighting Maroons on Sunday.
“I think we need that kind of performance, especially going into the UP game and we’re happy. It’s gonna be a very, very happy dugout today,” Baldwin said.
“We shot over 50 percent from the field (and) held a tough UST team. I know their record doesn’t flatter them but all the teams that played against them know how tough they are. We held them to 40 percent (from the field).”
John Obasa and Kai Balunggay dropped 17 points each while Amos had 15 points for the Blue Eagles, who are blowing hot and cold in the early juncture of this season.
Nic Cabañero, meanwhile, delivered 21 points but it was still not enough as he failed to draw support from the Tigers, who absorbed their fifth loss — their 19th straight setback dating back to Season 85.