NU outlasts FEU to force rubber match for UAAP title

Troy Rosario led NU's cause with 19 points and 14 rebounds. While Glenn Khobuntin added 17 markers.

Alfred Aroga asserted his presence underneath defensively and finished with 7 points and 13 boards.

"We felt that in our last game we didn't do a good job defensively. We allowed them to score in the 70s and every time they score in the 70s they always win," head coach Eric Altamirano explained.

"So we really focused on going back to our fundamentals and going back to our discipline in terms of our defense."

NU, which even suspended its classes from 12 noon onwards to allow its students to watch the all-important game, did not disappoint the throng of supporters that trooped to the Big Dome as they returned to the basics and put on a defensive clinic to force FEU to a season-low output of 47 points.

It looked like a slow start for FEU as the Bulldogs pounced and raced to a 22-6 advantage early in the second quarter.

But as the game wore on, and even when the Tamaraws managed to chop the lead down to 26-18 by halftime, it became clear NU had simply locked down FEU's guns.

NU held FEU to a paltry 23% shooting after the first two quarters, all while getting the most of their 16 second-chance opportunities and getting 10 points from it.

The Tamaraws, struggling to get their offense going and flip the pace to their favor, managed to cut the lead to just 6 in the third quarter before NU strung together some points for a 43-30 entering the fourth.

That lead later rose to 15, 45-30, after a Rosario basket.

FEU still fought against NU's defensive walls and came to within 50-44 courtesy of a Tolomia jumper with 2:45 to play.

But that's when Alolino struck with his dagger triple and finished the job for NU.

"Gusto ko lang makatulong sa team. Ayokong maging last game ko 'to," the graduating Rosario admitted, who also tracked down 9 offensive rebounds. "Kung meron pinaka-importanteng game para sa amin, ito yun. Ito yung start ng Finals para sa amin."

(I just wanted to help the team. I didn't want this to be my last game. This was the most important game for us. This is the start of the Finals for us.)

Indeed, Game 2 was about letting out everything NU had left in the tank, as well as a fine display of all the lessons they've learned along the way - whether from this season or the two years before it.

Altamirano's wards took everything they knew and acquired and turned into an advantage FEU would never overcome at least for this game. The result was finally winning one over coach Nash Racela after the Tamaraws swept NU in the eliminations and won Game 1.

"We've had a lot of times this season that the (opposing) team had a run and I just kept reminding the players to keep their poise, keep their composure. And I think the games that we played early on really helped us handle these types of situations," Altamirano explained.

"I thought our guards handled the pressure well. They (FEU) made a run and they (NU guards) kept their poise. The guards stayed under control, we didn't take a bad shot. We waited and waited until we got a better shot."

What energy and effort NU lacked in Game 1, they more than made up for in Game 2. They rested up and recovered from the mental fatigue brought about by a grueling path to the Finals and came out strong and out-rebounded the Tamaraws, 58-39.

"We just reminded the boys that this game is all about effort. It will boil down to effort," Altamirano shared his pre-game reminders. "Last game we got outworked by FEU, so today we were able to address that."

At this point, both teams are on even footing and will have exactly a week to prepare for the deciding Game 3 happening on Wednesday, October 15 at the Mall of Asia Arena at 3:30 PM.

"I think it will boil down to which team can assert itself," Altamirano shared what he thinks will decide the series. "Can we assert ourselves defensively or FEU can assert themselves offensively? I think that will be the key in the third game."

Mythical 5 member Mac Belo led all Tamaraws with 17 points and 6 rebounds while Tolomia added 15 markers and 5 rebounds.

Game 3 will be played on Wednesday, October 15 at the Mall of Asia Arena at 3:30 PM.

The scores:

NU (62): Rosario 19, Khobuntin 17, Alolino 12, Aroga 7, Alejandro 2, Diputado 2, Neypes 2, Javelona 1, Betayene 0, Perez 0.

FEU (47): Belo 17, Tolomia 15, Iñigo 7, Pogoy 4, Cruz 2, Jose 2, Tamsi 0, Dennison 0, Escoto 0, Hargrove 0, Denila 0, Yu 0, Ugsang 0, Escoto 0, David 0.

Quarter scores: 18-6, 26-18, 43-30, 62-47.