With sweet-shooting big man Matthew Salem waxing hot in the stretch, National U turned back University of the Philippines on Saturday, 80-69, to gain a share of second spot in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 6-foot-3 Salem continued his solid showing on his initial year with the Bulldogs, firing away a career-high of 26 points, 11 of them coming in the final frame where he ignited a decisive 11-2 breakaway in a crucial two-minute stretch that allowed them to pull away from the Fighting Maroons.
It was NU’s second straight victory and fourth overall in six matches, enabling it to join Ateneo at the second spot behind powerhouse La Salle, still undefeated in six games. UP closed out its first-round campaign with a 1-6 mark.
However, NU coach Eric Altamirano admitted the final score didn’t reflect fully how the Bulldogs struggled to put away the Fighting Maroons, who pulled within two midway in the fourth after trailing by as many as 13 markers in the third.
“It was a grind for us and we expected that. We knew UP’s gonna be a tough team to play I reminded that this team is capable of coming back,” he said.
Altamirano also rued the way the Bulldogs’ defensive breakdown in the final frame plus their inability to protect the ball better, coming up with 21 errors, five more than their counterparts’.
“We didn’t play good defensei n the second half and we didn’t take care of the ball again,” he stressed.
Jett Manuel tallied a team-high 21 points and teamed up with Fighting Maroons veteran Paul Desiderio in their fightback that saw them close in on at 57-59, only to fold up in the face of the Bulldogs’ steady finish. – By Jerome Lagunzad
NU (80) – Salem 26, Diputado R 12, Gallego 12, Alejandro 7, Aroga 7, Mosqueda 5, Pate 5, Salim 4, Morido 2, Aquino 0, Diputado C 0, Abatayo 0, Rangel 0, Sinclair 0
UP (69) – Manuel 21, Desiderio 11, Moralde 8, Espanola 5, Prado 4, Webb 4, Lao 4, Vito 3, Longa 3, Harris 2, Asilum 2, Jaboneta 2, Lim 0, Dario 0, Romero 0, Gomez de Liano 0
Quarterscores: 12-15, 35-24, 52-46, 80-69.