ALFRED Aroga nailed two pressure-packed foul shots as National University nosed out a fighting University of the East side, 51-49 to book the last spot in the UAAP Season 77 Final Four on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Aroga found himself open underneath the basket following a perfectly executed inbound play from the baseline and was fouled by UE big man Charles Mammie with 12 seconds remaining in a tense, well-played match.
The 6-7 Aroga cooly sank both foul shots to give NU back the lead, 51-49.
After UE called for time, star playmaker Roi Sumang found Bong Galanza open from the flank. The sweet-shooting forward faked off Glen Khobuntin but his three-point shot fell short.
That allowed the Bulldogs to barge into the Final Four for the third straight season under coach Eric Altamirano, who had to make do with what was left of a team orphaned by two-time MVP Ray Parks.
"For Alfred to make those two free throws, that was big for us," said Altamirano, who also paid tribute to a UE side that won five games in a row to force a playoff for the final ticket to the semifinals.
“I have to give it to UE. Kung puwede lang pumasok ang two teams sa Final Four, but it’s hard to win five straight coming to this game,” Altamirano added.
The victory set NU up for a potentially-explosive Final Four match up against top seed Ateneo on Wednesday.
UE overhauled nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit behind Sumang, who scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the last two periods to forge the final deadlock at 49-all.
The Red Warriors, however, bungled several opportunities in the endgame, including a free throw by Chris Javier that could have given themt he lead in the endgame.
But none was as big as the wide-open jumper which Galanza couldn't convert in the final seconds.
“Iyung game na iyon, it came down kung sino ang may puso na manalo,” said the 48-year-old Altramirano, who saw his side turn tha ball over 32 times in the game.
“I’m very proud of my boys because they showed character tonight. UE had a very big comeback in the end but we just kept reminding the boys to keep their composure.”
UE, this year’s host school, failed to land a spot in the Final Four for the fifth straight season.