NU coach Altamirano stands defiant: 'We've lost the battle, but not the war'
Alfred Aroga and the rest of the Bulldogs will be facing their fourth do-or-die game in five outings when Game Two against FEU is played on Wednesday. Jaime Campos

NATIONAL University coach Eric Altamirano remained defiant after his Bulldogs lost to Far Eastern University, 70-75, in Game One of the UAAP men’s basketball Finals on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Bulldogs squandered an early lead and fell on the brink of getting swept in the best-of-three series that would put a quick end to their first Finals appearance in over four decades.

Altamirano, however, insisted it is far from over.

“We’ve lost the battle, but not the war,” Altmirano said after the game. “They have to beat us twice. Importante is we have to come back strong.”

Altamirano, though, hopes his wards don’t get too comfortable for being left in a familiar scenario, where their backs are against the wall.

“Sana naman wag (sila maging comfortable), but we have no choice,” said Altamirano as his team will be playing its fourth do-or-die game in five outings. “We’re put in this situation and the most important thing is we give it our best.”

[See FEU Tamaraws a win away from UAAP title after holding off Bulldogs]

It was the Bulldogs’ third straight defeat to the Tamaraws this season after losing both games in their head-to-head matchup in the elimination round, but Altamirano refused to tag their opponents as their kryptonite.

“I don’t believe in that (kontrapelo),” he said. “It just happens they beat us, but we’re not thinking about that. I’m sure it’s going to be different on Wednesday.”

On Saturday, the Tamaraws simply showed more determination, especially in a third-quarter windup that broke the game wide open.

“FEU wanted it more than us,” Altamirano said. “They were able to get their momentum, they were able to score from transition and they made their shots from outside.”

The Tams thrived on their running game — as attested by their 14 fast-break points — and long-range bombs, with Roger Pogoy firing two triples in the third period.

The Bulldogs also uncharacteristically missed 16 of their 31 attempts from the charity stripe.

“More of that is mental fatigue and masyado silang emotional, siguro excited sa Finals,” Altamirano said of his wards, all Finals first-timers.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos