MANILA – In Season 75 of the UAAP, the National University (NU) Bulldogs returned to the Final Four for the first time in 11 years, only to be summarily dismissed by the second-seeded University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers, who then held a twice-to-beat advantage.
In Season 76, the tables have turned. The Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in the UAAP, and hold the twice-to-beat edge against the Tigers, who sneaked into the semi-finals after ending the reign of defending champion Ateneo.
Here’s how the two teams match-up:
The NU Bulldogs were among the top contenders for the season, but their campaign got off to a slow start. At one point, they were at 3-3 and lost back-to-back games against Far Eastern University and Adamson.
But after a much-publicized “players-only meeting,” the Bulldogs regrouped and reeled off six consecutive wins. They stumbled against La Salle in the second round, but were still able to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage after beating Ateneo in their last game of the season.
It is already a historic season for the Bulldogs, as it is the first time in the Final Four era that they will ever have a twice-to-beat edge in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, the UST Growling Tigers endured an injury-filled season. Star shooting guard Jeric Teng went down with a shoulder injury early in the first round, and was out for five games. Coach Pido Jarencio admitted that Teng’s absence sent the Tigers into a tailspin, and they were in danger of missing the Final Four bus entirely.
But Teng’s return, combined with the inspired play of Karim Abdul, helped lift the Tigers late in the second round, and they won four of their last five games – beating Ateneo in their last game – to advance to the semi-finals.
Elimination round history:
NU won the first round encounter, 71-67, after holding off a late rally by the Tigers. But that game has since become more infamous for the encounter that occurred late in the second quarter, when NU’s Jeoffrey Javillonar collided into UST’s Teng.
Teng would leave the game and not return. He would later be diagnosed with a shoulder injury and missed five games.
Teng wound up returning just in time for their second round match-up against NU, but the Bulldogs spoiled his return as they won 75-61. It was Robin Rono who paved the way for NU, scoring 19 points and draining five three-pointers in the game.
What they said:
“This is the first time that we’re in this position. But then again, hindi pa tapos ang mission namin, ‘yung goal namin. We have a great shot of going to the Finals, so we want to stay humble and hungry, to make sure we’ll stay focused.” – NU head coach Eric Altamirano after the Bulldogs clinched a twice-to-beat advantage.
“Alam kong medyo mahirap. Number one team ang kakalabanin natin, pero pagdating naman ng Final Four, ibang usapan nay an. Pare-parehas na tayo d’yan. It’s all about the heart, the desire – kung sino ‘yung mas gustong manalo.” – UST head coach Pido Jarencio, after the Tigers clinched a semi-finals date against NU.