MANILA, Philippines – The NU Bulldogs saw their reign as UAAP champions end at one year when they fell to the UST Growling Tigers in their Final Four matchup Sunday, November 22, at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
It was a tough showing for the number 4 seed NU, who shot just 27% from the field and 5-of-27 from downtown. Team captain Gelo Alolino was limited to only 1-of-17 shooting, while Aroga - last year’s Finals MVP - had 15 rebounds but only 7 points.
“I felt bad, actually. I think I didn’t give my best. Because when the game started, I was looking at my teammates eyes. I was like, ‘I won’t let [these] guys down,’” a despondent Aroga told the media post-game.
“I think my best wasn’t enough though.”
Aroga had many praises for UST, the number one seed which went 11-3 in the elimination round and will advance to the finals for the third time in 4 years.
“I really respect this UST team,” said the second-year big man. “They really play like champions. They were so focused. They really wanted that game.”
Aroga specified UST team captain Kevin Ferrer who came up second in the UAAP MVP race and had 11 points plus 7 boards on Sunday.
“A guy like Ferrer. Man, he’s the heart of the team. Every time we made bad decisions and we would try to press, I was always looking at how he was reacting,” said Aroga, who’s also in this season’s Mythical 5 team.
“Even though he’s not a point guard, he would take the ball and back up, like make sure everybody’s in position.
“UST really wanted the game more than us. I’m a fair-play athlete, so I give them that. They really deserve it.”
Return not up to him
Aroga is still eligible to play in the UAAP for his third year next season, but the big man says that decision is not up to him.
“I can’t really say nothing about it. It’s up to the coaches,” said Aroga, who’s established himself as a lethal offensive threat and arguably the best rim protector over the past two UAAP seasons.
“So as far as I’m concerned, I can’t say nothing about it. It’s up to the coaches and the management.”
NU is losing key parts like Alolino, Pao Javelona, and Kyle Neypes to graduation but is still expected to be very competitive next season if Aroga returns.
Besides players coming back like J-Jay Alejandro and Rev Diputado, the team is also expected to welcome new faces like Matt Salem, Matt Aquino, JV Gallego, Joshua Sinclair, and more.
“Actually, I can’t say nothing about this now. I was talking to all those rookies - the rookies that got into the team - I was telling that all the seniors are going; it’s your turn, you need to step up big time. It’s your turn to shine. You need to play as champions,” said Aroga.
“Now the season is done for us. We need to [not] think about basketball now. Try to, like me - I’m thinking of getting some good grades in school now, I really need my diploma - so after that, just step after step, we’re going to see what happens next.”
NU’s title defense in 2015 was off to a rocky start when they lost their first 3 games. After winning their next 3, the Bulldogs then lost 4 of their next 5 before closing the season on a 3-game winning streak to get to the Final Four.
“We started really bad and I’m really proud of the fight [for] the Final Four, even though I was expecting more,” Aroga said about his team’s season outcome.
“I’m not ashamed of this season, cause we really started bad and no one could expect us to [make] the Final Four. But at least we got there, and, sayang, we couldn’t go to the next level.” – Rappler.com