Sports

Bulldogs keep their spot behind Maroons–and continue making plans to remain rooted there

JUSTIN PALACIELO —Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.net

With another victory in its pocket, National University (NU) found itself having two chances of making the Final Four in a single playdate in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament.

Not that NU coach Jeff Napa is keeping tabs.

“We’re not thinking about the Final Four. What we’re focused on is how to sustain our current position,” Napa said on Thursday, after the Bulldogs ditched University of the East (UE), 70-61, at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

That position is two games behind defending champion University of the Philippines (UP), which kept a two-win wall intact after crushing Far Eastern U, 73-59, later on Thursday. More importantly, that position is currently No. 2, which gives the school occupying it twice-to-beat protection in the semifinals.

For Napa, keeping its hold of that position will take an upgrade in its game.

“Coming to whatever happens in the next round, we really need to level up because we can’t let everything end here in the eliminations,” said Napa, whose wards sealed their eighth win in 11 games.

This coming Sunday, NU will have two chances to officially book its Final Four stint. The first shot will be the easier one: The Bulldogs battle the hapless University of Santo Tomas Tigers at 1 p.m. at Mall of Asia Arena with a victory guaranteeing a semifinal spot.

If by some cruel plot twist the Bulldogs flub that chance, NU can still formally advance with a UP victory over La Salle at the end of the four-game Sunday bill.

The Green Archers kept their own Final Four hopes upbeat with an 81-78 victory over Adamson courtesy of a CJ Austria triple that beat the buzzer.

La Salle is currently tied with Adamson at fourth and fifth places with four wins and six losses each.

PJ Palacielo shone for NU in the stretch, scoring eight of his 10 points in the last 4:06 even as the Bulldogs hosed down a last-ditch UE rally by scoring seven straight points—NU guard Steve Nash Enriquez capped that run with a booming triple, 1:31 remaining.

Before that strong finishing kick, UE had come to within two on a triple by Luis Villegas.

The Maroons jumped out of the gates and used a 16-1 start to take the fight out of the Tamaraws early.

“After a long break, at least we started well in this game,” UP coach Goldwyn Monteverde said. “We started strong. Especially in our defense during the first part, we really started strong.”

The Maroons later widened the gap to 71-50, with 1:52 remaining, off a James Spencer trey to improve its league-best card to 10-1.

UP, which has now won seven straight games, took the opportunity to look for things to improve on as it builds toward its title defense.

“We just need to work on being consistent,” said Monteverde. “That’s one part of our game that we need to work on. We can’t play in spurts. We need to be consistent offensively and defensively.”

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