ALFRED Aroga swatted away a potential game-tying layup by Kiefer Ravena as National University beat Final Four top seed Ateneo, 65-63, on Wednesday before a jampacked crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to reach the UAAP Finals for the first time since 1970.
A long delay caused by lighting problem that lasted for more than 20 minutes hardly deterred the Bulldogs, who also relied on veteran guard Gelo Alolino in the endgame to win their sixth successive game against coach Bo Perasol and the Blue Eagles dating back to last season.
Alolino, the former RP Youth standout, took over just as Ateneo threatened to take the game away, scoring a booming three-point shot, before adding two pressure-packed free throws with 9.3 seconds to go that gave NU the lead, 65-63, just before a power interruption hit the Big Dome.
The win came as sweet redemption for NU, which became just the second team in the UAAP since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994, to beat a top seeded team.
Last season, the Bulldogs became the first top-ranked team to lose to a No. 4 seed, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.
“We knew where they were going, so we were able to stop him (Ravena). I thank Alfred Aroga for bailing us out again with his block,” said a jubilant NU coach Eric Altamirano, who will be coaching in his first UAAP Finals after three seasons with the Bulldogs.
Even through the 25-minute delay, Altamirano reminded his players to remain focused and try to get the job done.
“I just told them to relax. Don’t try to exert energy while on the bench, and just stay focused,” he added.
The Bulldogs again did a splendid job on the defensive end, hounding Ravena all game long as the newly-minted tournament UAAP MVP struggled through a 6-of-24 shooting from the field.
Ravena, though, managed to finish with 18 points, supporting Chris Newsome, who had 22 points in his final UAAP game.
Aroga led the Bulldogs with a double-double effort of 14 points and 12 rebounds, including two blocks.
Alolino added 12 points, five rebounds and two assists, while senior forward Glenn Khobuntin chipped in 11, eight boards and two assists.