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Henry Liao

UAAP Finals: Make Mine NU

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For the wackiest reasons, I am rooting for National University to beat Far Eastern University in the deciding Game Three of the Season 77 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) menís seniors basketball tournament to be held on Wednesday, October 15, at the historic Araneta Coliseum.

I am rooting for the National University Bulldogs because ÖÖ..

Ö I am a NATIONAList at heart. Patriotism runs in my blood. Wander not thousands of miles away to the Far East(ern) to show your love of country, or school.

Ö The team that defeated my alma mater (De la Salle University) in the UAAP Final Four is an adversary no matter what. The FEU Tamaraws beat the DLSU Green Archers to reach the Finals. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Ö The Bulldogs have not won the UAAP menís basketball crown since 1954, or a year before I joined the earthly world. No other UAAP team has had a longer title drought. Thus, letís give NU a chance to win it all this year Ė the first-ever No. 4 seed to capture the crown since the Final Four format was instituted in 1994 and only its second championship since the school became a founding UAAP member in 1938.

FEU last won the UAAP cage diadem in 2005 in the last of its three-year reign (2003-05). In 2004, La Salle whipped the Tams in the best-of-three finals but the Green Archers were forced to surrender the championship trophy (and gifted to FEU outright) after it discovered, a year later, to have employed an ineligible player.

Ö The owner of National University is a classmate of mine at Xavier School way back in the early seventies. He also attended La Salle for his tertiary studies. No name-dropping here. I am leaving out the name like it is a pang-entertainment ďblindĒ item. Letís just give way to Madame Auring to guess or Boy Abunda to decode the missing name.

Ö I have always loved an underdog team. Parang si FPJ sa kanyang mga pelikula. Pabugbog muna in the opening scenes (like NUís 75-70 loss in Game 1). Gumaganti at lumalaban sa kalagitnaan (NUís 62-47 win in Game 2). At ang matamis na tagumpay sa huli (NU, I am counting on you).

The Binondo oddsmakers have pegged FEU as a plus-six-points winner in Game 3 winner. But I will go against the grain and pick the underdog. Just follow La Salleís Finals path a year ago.

Having said the all the above, I am betting my singkong barko on NU, come hell or high water.
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Seriously speaking, though, two sports dictums, specifically in basketball, made me favor National University against Far Eastern University in Game Three.

Offense wins regular games Ė Mark Belo and Chris Tolomia admittedly can get hot on a good day. But defense wins championship. Offense sometimes takes a day off Ė like a bad day in the office. But defense never rests.

The untimely departure of two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player awardee Bobby Ray Parks after just three seasons (without a single Finals appearance) left a huge void in the NU offense this campaign. But mild-mannered Bulldogs bench boss Eric Altamirano stepped up to beef up his teamís defense with the entry of first-year import Alfred Dong Aroga as the replacement of the graduated Emmanuel Mbe.

Altamirano offset the loss of volume-shooting Parks with a share-the-wealth offense built around Angelo Alolino (12.3 ppg), Jeth Troy Rosario (11.2 ppg and 8.9 rpg) and team skipper Glenn Khobuntin (9.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg).

The 6-7 Aroga, a Roman Catholic from Cameroon, has been the anchor of NUís tenacious defense (is Ateneo hotshot Kiefer Ravena, this yearís league MVP, still unconvinced of Arogaís defensive prowess?) and rebounding efficiency.

Aroga wound up as the leagueís runaway winner in the shot-blocking category with two swats an outing aside from contributing 10.6 points and 9.6 rebounds entering Game 3.

In the end, NUís defense will be its passport to greatness and a first UAAP menís basketball crown in 60 years.

Unless FEU proves us wrong.
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Philippine Basketball


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