ATENEO star Kai Sotto admitted that Nazareth School of National University was just the better team after sweeping them in the double-round robin in UAAP Season 81 juniors’ basketball tournament.
But after the loss to start the second round and seeing all the things they still have to improve, the 7-foot-1 big man said they'll do their best not to allow that to happen again once they take on each other in the postseason.
“Pinakita lang ng NU na sila yung better team pero hindi namin hahayaan na mangyari ulit yun,” Sotto said.
Sotto unleashed 24 points, highlighted by a perfect 3-for-3 clip from the three-point line, on top of 18 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks but the Eaglets failed to complete a fourth-quarter comeback, allowing the Bullpups to escape with a 78-71 victory on Sunday at the Arena in San Juan City.
The teen prodigy said that he didn’t have a hard time going up against NU big men Kevin Quiambao and Carl Tamayo, but the Eaglets really fell short even though they showed a lot of improvement compared to their first-round duel with the Bullpups.
“Hindi ako nahihirapan sa kanila. Magagaling silang players, magaling silang big men sa high school. Ayun nandun lang sila,” Sotto said.
The Eaglets erased a 61-68 deficit through an 8-2 run with Sotto hitting a triple followed by Forthsky Padrigao’s lay-up to cut down NU’s lead to just one, 69-70 with a minute remaining.
But Carlo Tamayo came to the rescue for the Bullpups converting a clutch and-one play from a putback to give NU a 73-69 breather but Padrigao answered with a floater to trim it to a two-point deficit, 73-71.
The Eaglets, however, had no answers to the Bullpups well-executed defensive stops that denied them from scoring any basket in their last two possessions with Ernest Felicida nailing four free throw shots as well as Terrence Fortea, who split his charities to seal the victory for NU.
“Kinulang kami tsaka maganda lang na nangyari kanina is yung improvement namin from last game pero kulang pa rin,” said Sotto referring to their improvements compared to their 62-78 first round loss to NU. “Yung sabi ng mga coaches is yung effort namin is nandoon pero hindi pwedeng effort lang kailangan andun yung pag-iisip namin na dapat tama yung ginagawa namin.”
“Kasi kita naman binuhos yung lahat pero hindi sapat yung binuhos lang, dapat tama din yung gagawin mo,” he added.
The 16-year-old said that they will take it as a huge lesson for the remainder of their campaign as they dropped to the third seed with a 5-3 win-loss record.
“Gagawin naming parang lesson itong last two minutes kasi parang nung una we’re playing to win pero nung huli parang we’re playing not to lose na lang,” Sotto said. “Parang nawala yung intensity ng team kaya parang doon medyo nagstop ng konti.”
Despite the loss, Sotto is just happy that they are already complete with Padrigao already fully-recovered from appendicitis surgery.
“Malaking bagay kasi yung ugali niya na dinadala na parang siya yung kasama ng buong team pero at the same time sobrang seryoso niya rin,” Sotto said. “Kaya nahahawa yung buong team sa kanya, yung competitiveness niya, nadadala niya sa team.”
“Kasi last round si Ian Espinosa doing a great job siya talagang maganda yung nilalaro niya pero kulang kaya malaking bagay si Forthsky mas kumpiyansa na kami kasi may mga point guards na kami na maayos,” he added.