FOILED in its bid for a back-to-back UAAP junior championship last season, National University was quick to fire a strong warning to the rest of the field behind a gutsy 58-52 win over La Salle-Zobel to rule the 8th Smart-PCABL (Philippine Chinese Amateur Basketball League) FREEGO Cup on Saturday at the Philippine Buddhacare Academy gym in Quezon City.
With John Clemente struggling, bull-strong Justin Baltazar came through for the Bullpups with huge plays down the stretch to complete the come-from-behind win after falling behind by as much as 10 points early in the game.
Baltazar finished with only 9 points but hauled down 17 boards and made life difficult for La Salle-Zobel’s top gunner Aljun Melecio.
Melecio was held to just five points in the last two quarters of the tournament presented by FREEGO and sponsored by Plastic Linoleum, Hapee Toothpaste, Insular Square (Cebu), Fed Seal, K TechSports Inc., and New Pioneer Auto Supply (Cebu).
With Baltazar controlling the boards, Carl Penano and Joshua Jugar provided the needed offensive firepower, with Jugar scoring five of his 9 points in the payoff period.
NU’s win was a follow-up to its thrilling 76-71 victory over Ateneo in the semis.
The Eaglets were the ones who spoiled the Bullpups’ bid for a second straight UAAP crown.
The win was NU’s 10th straight since the elims.
Clemente was limited to just eight points this time.
The Junior Archers advanced to the winner-take-all final match by crushing Malayan, 103-73, last Thursday.