As the final buzzer sounded, Nazareth School of National U players stormed their way to the court, exchanging high-fives while giving each other a warm embrace after yet another successful title run.
For the third time in the last four years, the Bullpups are back as the top dogs of the University Athletics Association of the Philippines juniors basketball tournament.
Displaying its deadly form all game long, NU coasted to a wire-to-wire 96-85 victory over De La Salle-Zobel on Friday afternoon and clinched the UAAP Season 78 juniors cage title at the packed Filoil-Flying V Center in San Juan City.
Prized duo Justine Baltazar (18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks) and John Lloyd Clemente (15 markers and 15 boards) made their usual presence felt and got the needed lift from their solid backups, led by Winderlich Coyoca, as the NU bounced back from their only loss this season—a 60-71 decision in Game 2 last week—and secured its third title in the last 5 years.
The 5-foot-9 Coyoco, one of NU players tasked to overshadow reigning MVP and La Salle-Zobel star Aljun Melecio, came out firing on all cylinders with a team-high 20 points, spiked by four triples, while southpaw Karl Penano led their bench mob with 16 markers and seven rebounds, enabling NU to dominate La Salle-Zobel from the get-go.
“Nag-send ng strong message ang team. Pinakita nila na that they deserve mag-champion,” NU coach Jeff Napa said in the post-match interview. “Sinasabi nila na bully kami, pinanindigan lang namin ‘yun ngayon.”
Melecio, who is bound to play for La Salle in the collegiate ranks, sizzled with a game-high 22 markers but failed to make any response in the third canto when the Bullpups went on a murderous 25-3 tear that stretched an 11-point halftime lead to a whopping 33-point cushion, paving the way for an easy finish.
“Nag-rally kami dahil sa depensa namin,” said Napa, 35.
“Pinakita namin kung ano kami at sino kami dito sa UAAP. Given na ‘yung talent ng bata (Melecio). Kumbaga ginawa namin ‘yung best namin sa pagdepensa at alam naman namin mapapagod siya. Luckily, naging effective ang game plan namin hindi lang kay Melecio pati sa buong Zobel.”
The 6-foot-7 Baltazar went on to be named as the Finals MVP underscored by his game-averages of 16.6 points, 20.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. – By Jerome Lagunzad
NU (96) — Coyoca 20, Baltazar 18, Penano 16, Clemente 15, Amsali 11, Callejo 6, Atienza 5, Fortea 3, Jugar 2, Beldua 0, Tolentino 0, Mosqueda 0, Careng 0, Manalang 0, Sarip 0.
La Salle-Zobel (75) — Melecio 22, Sobrevega 20, Sario 14, Paraiso 8, Romero 6, Cabarrus 3, Fortuna 2, Salafranca 0, Mariano 0, Tongco 0.
Quarterscores: 22-9; 48-37; 79-52; 96-75.