NATIONAL University looks to book its first UAAP finals appearance in more than four decades when it faces University of Santo Tomas in the UAAP Season 76 men’s basketball tournament on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The top-ranked Bulldogs begin their Final Four series with the fourth-seed Tigers in their 4 p.m. match. NU holds a twice-to-beat incentive against UST.
A win by the Bulldogs will move the former cellar-dwellers into the finals for the first time since losing to University of the East in the 1970 championship.
NU has also not won a UAAP crown since a team coached by Skip Guinto won the 1954 title.
Bulldogs coach Eric Altamirano remained cautious despite being the No. 1 team at the end of the eliminations, noting that this will be the first time that the Bulldogs will be in this kind of situation.
The Bulldogs never had a twice-to-beat advantage and came nowhere near the top-seed since the Final Four began in 1994.
“Iba na ’yung Final Four,” said Altamirano. “This is the first time we are here. Everybody will be feeling their way. Ang importante dito is to stay focused and stay together dahil ibang level ang Final Four.”
The Bulldogs had a blistering run to the top spot, winning seven of their final eight games to finish with a 10-4 win-loss slate.
“We are satisfied with how we played, how we transformed, and how we have evolved from the first round to the second round,” Altamirano said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are coming off an emotional 82-74 victory over Ateneo to drop the Blue Eagles’ bid for a sixth consecutive UAAP crown.
Despite holding the fourth spot — no team at No. 4 has managed to rise and win a crown in the history of the Final Four — UST coach Pido Jarencio still believes that the odds are even.
“Iba na kapag Final Four. Pare-parehas lang ’yan. It’s all about heart and desire kung sino ang gustong manalo,” said Jarencio.
The Tigers definitely showed their desire to enter the Final Four, winning four of their last five outings to end the regular season with an 8-6 win-loss slate.