JUST hours before sealing their long-overdue but improbable return to the UAAP men’s basketball Finals, National University coach Eric Altamirano, a devout Christian, was reading about the Battle of Jericho - a biblical war that saw the Israelites miraculously topple the walls of the city of Jericho by just shouting.
“I read the story of Jericho and I think that's the message given to me by God – that finally we were able to break our own walls of Jericho,” he said after eliminating top seed Ateneo, 65-63, in the semifinals last Thursday. “It took us three tries to get to the Finals but with God's grace and favor, we're able to make it.”
That herculean feat allowed the Bulldogs to clinch their first Finals appearance in over four decades or since 1970.
Now that they’re here, might as well go all the way.
The Bulldogs seek to move closer to their first championship in six decades, or since 1954, when they face the Far Eastern University in Game One of the title series on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We've broken our walls of Jericho,” Altamirano said. “Malapit na kami sa Promised Land.”
It will take a lot more than just prayer for the Bulldogs to draw first blood in the best-of-three affair that tips off at 3:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs have to continue relying on the league’s best defense that allowed opponents just 57.4 points in the elimination round, best typified by Alfred Aroga’s block on Kiefer Ravena in the waning seconds of their do-or-die Final Four match that doomed the twice-to-beat Eagles.
“We’ve gotten to this point, why will we change our game?” Altamirano asked. “Ang importante lang is we stay together and do what we do.”
“What got us to this point will get us to the next level.”
But everything is easier said than done for the Bulldogs, especially against the Tamaraws, who swept the two schools' head-to-head matchup in the regular season.
“Parehong kontrapelo din eh,” Altamirano said of the Tamaraws, led by Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, and Anthony Hargrove. “With how we are with Ateneo, ganun din sila sa amin.”
“Throw everything out sa Finals,” added the veteran mentor, who will count on a solid cast bannered by Aroga, Gelo Alolino, and Troy Rosario anew. “It’s not about numbers, it’s not about stats; it’s about the players preparing physically and mentally for the game.”