Jake Figueroa showed nerves of steel in drilling five crucial points as National University held on to survive a late fightback by defending champion Ateneo de Manila University, 65-61, in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 86 men’s basketball tournament yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Reinhard Jumamoy was lights out from the field sinking his first eight shots but it was Figueroa’s composure and steady hands at crunch time that lifted the Bulldogs past the same rival they submitted in the first round for an 8-2 win-loss record.
The victory created more separation for NU from the rest of the field as it secured at least a playoff for a Final Four seat.
“Good win for us. Hard-fought win because this is the second round. Everybody stepped up. All teams are stepping up,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Napa said after his wards handed the Blue Eagles their first three-game losing skid in 10 years.
“Different story from the last time that I was here. As I said before, because of the lack of effort. We really emphasized the word effort in the conversations with the team so that at least we’ll be able to address our lapses,” Napa added as NU recovered from a stinging setback to De La Salle University last week.
“Good thing we got the breaks of the game in the last few minutes. Jake made clutch big shots and free throws that got us in this situation.”
Ateneo made an 8-0 run to get in front, 61-60, off a Sean Quitevis basket following a steal from the backcourt with 2:05 left before Figueroa answered with a corner three with 1:07 left for a 63-61 NU lead.
The Blue Eagles had a chance to retake the advantage after Ateneo made a defensive stop off the inbounds but Chris Koon turned the ball over with a costly errant pass that Figueroa stole as he was sent to the line with 3.4 seconds left.
The Season 85 Juniors Most Valuable Player Jumamoy, who returned from a one-game rest due to an undisclosed injury, went 8-of-10 from the field for 21 points as he stepped up in the absence of Steve Nash Enriquez (broken jaw) while Figueroa fired 18 points and plucked seven rebounds for NU.
Ateneo, which played sans head coach Tab Baldwin who was feeling under the weather, slid to fifth spot with a 4-6 slate and remained winless in the second round.
Obasa scored 11 points and nine rebounds while Kai Ballungay got 10 points for the Blue Eagles.
In the first game, Adamson University boosted its chances of clinching a Final Four berth after pushing University of Santo Tomas to the brink of elimination with a 61-53 win.
The Falcons staved off a fourth quarter rally by the Tigers to claim their second straight victory to even their record to 5-5.
Didat Hanapi sank back-to-back triples to cap Adamson’s closing 9-0 run to zap the fight out of UST after it cut its 10-point deficit to just two, 52-50, with 6:25 left.
It was a huge win for the Falcons’ semis drive but head coach Nash Racela was far from satisfied.
“We needed a big fourth quarter but we weren’t able to make it in the first few minutes. We’re not able to finish strong,” he said.