DEFENDING champion National University simply refuses to go away.
Riding on Justine Salazar’s double-double effort, the Bullpups eliminated upset-conscious La Salle-Zobel, 61-45, Monday to forge a championship rematch with unbeaten Ateneo in the UAAP Season 77 juniors basketball tournament.
The reigning champions and Blue Eaglets start their title series on Friday at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan, with Ateneo enjoying a thrice-to-beat advantage after completing a 14-game sweep of the double-round eliminations.
Having won the men's and women's basketball championships earlier in the season, NU can become the first school since University of Santo Tomas in 1994 to win the UAAP basketball triple crown with a Bullpups victory.
Although considered underdogs against their unbeaten opponent, Bullpups coach Jeff Napa remains unfazed.
“Mas mahirap man ang pagdaraanan, eh di mas masarap,” said Napa, a former King Bulldog.
The 6-foot-6 Baltazar finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds as he helped NU score 11 straight points in the first seven minutes of its stepladder semis with La Salle-Zobel and never looked back.
John Clemente led the defending champion with 14 points, while forward Mark Dyke scored only nine points but pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
Aljun Melecio had 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and two assists, while Joaquin Banzon added 14 and six boards for the Junior Archers.
Despite having a young roster, La Salle-Zobel overachieved, finishing ahead of much-heralded teams Adamson University and Far Eastern University-Diliman.
NU (61) - Clemente 14, Baltazar 13, Dyke 9, Manalang 9, Sta. Ana 5, Calma 5, Ferreras 4, Penano 2, Atienza 0, Claveria 0, De Guzman 0, Mina 0, Saquian 0.
DLSZ (45) - Melecio Alj. 15, Banzon 14, Romero 4, Melecio Ale. 3, Fortuna 3, Isaac 2, Paraiso 2, Sario 1, Webb 1, Cabarrus 0, Tongco 0.
Quarterscores: 15-5; 30-18; 42-31; 61-45.