NU Bulldogs look to topple top-seeded Blue Eagles, make first UAAP Finals in 44 years: 'It's all about heart'
Coach Eric Altamirano and the Bulldogs are looking to score their sixth straight win over coach Bo Perasol's Blue Eagles since last season. Jerome Ascano

NATIONAL University stands at the threshold of making history as it shoots for a first UAAP Finals appearance in more than four decades against top seeds Ateneo Blue Eagles in their semifinal knockout match on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Bulldogs, seeded fourth in the Final Four, forged the sudden death match after subduing the Blue Eagles, 78-74 last week.

Gametime is at 2 p.m.

Although NU enjoys a 5-0 head-to-head record against Ateneo the last two seasons, coach Eric Altamirano has again cautioned his players from falling into complacency.

“I think what’s important for us is to start strong. And pagdating ng Final Four, talagang itapon mo na 'yung lahat ng stats, mga numbers because it’s all about heart, yung kung sino talaga ang gusto manalo,” said Altamirano on the eve of the Bulldogs’ biggest game this season.

The Bulldogs won their only UAAP men’s basketball championship in the 1954-55 season and made their last league Finals stint in 1970 where they lost to the University of the East Red Warriors.

“We have one more game to go. Our goal is to get to the Finals,” said the soft-spoken NU coach, whose team will also try to redeem itself from last season’s Final Four meltdown. The Bulldogs were the first top seeds to lose to a fourth seed (University of Santo Tomas) since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994. 

“It’s anybody’s ballgame for Wednesday, but we’re gonna prepare hard. If history dictates itself, so be it, but at this point, you have to give everything, bigay mo na lahat,” he added.

In the meantime, Ateneo coach Bo Perasol believes the weeklong respite gave his veterans, particularly Kiefer Ravena and Chris Newsome, enough time to recover mentally and physically for the no-tomorrow match.

“Lagi naman (malaking bagay) iyan sa amin. The rest is always needed because of the major minutes of my starters,” said Perasol, whose team finished the 14-game elimination round with a tournament-best 11-3 win-loss card.

Ravena tried to carry the scoring load for Ateneo, where he finished with 24 points, but went just 9-of-35 from the floor against NU’s swarming defense.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @richava