GOING small has paid big dividends for National University.
The loss of Cameroonian center Alfred Aroga due to eligibility problems hit the Bulldogs’ bid hard in the early part of the season, but NU coach Eric Altamirano believes the adjustment from a big team to playing small ball is one of the reasons why the Bulldogs are on top of the heap.
“We lacked the height when we lost Aroga so the best thing for us is go small,” said Altamirano.
The result has been exceptional for the Bulldogs, who have won their last five games to climb past skidding Far Eastern University to the top of the team standings with an 8-3 win-loss slate.
More impressively, NU went on a run without prized big man Aroga, a late scratch from the team after it was found out that he failed to meet the league's two-year residency requirement for foreigners.
“All throughout the summer league, we expected Alfred Aroga to play. Because of what happened with his eligibility, somehow it affected our rotation, it affected our lineup and match-ups,” Altamirano said.
Star guard Ray Parks is still the focal point of the NU offense, but the two-time league MVP has been working on getting teammates more involved and among those who have responded was back-up guard Robin Rono.
“I think we were able to adjust and find ways on how to cover that (Aroga's absence),” said Altamirano.
Also stepping up in the absence of Aroga is Emmanuel Mbe. The Cameroonian center was recently picked as the ACCEL/3XVI Player of the Week by the UAAP Press Corps, as he posted 18 points and 11 rebounds in leading NU to an 81-73 victory over University of the East.
The Bulldogs are on track to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals, an incentive that will greatly improve the team’s chances of breaking their 59-year title drought.
“That’s our goal to get the number one or two, get to the top two para may twice-to-beat,” said Altamirano.
He, however, said that the focus of the team right now is continuing to improve.
“If it (being No. 1) happens, it happens. But we are not contented,” Altamirano said. "We always have to remember the time we lost three games. We have to stay humble and always look at that because you'll never know. You lose one game, and before you know it, nag-slide ka na."
“It’s not about being first but improving every game and making sure to stay focused and stay together,” he said.
Mbe said that they will definitely not relax in the remaining three games.
“We have UP, La Salle, and Ateneo. We are not going to take everything for granted every game. One game at a time,” said Mbe.