|Terrence Romeo misses a game tying three.|
Does this win save NU’s season?
by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales
This was a game where National University’s season was on the line. At 2-2, the Bulldogs were reeling. Another loss and well... who knows.
They were in this situation before. One year ago in fact.
In UAAP Season 74, in the first year of Eric Altamirano as head coach and Ray Ray Parks as the team’s big time savior, they started the season 1-4. Then came the low point when they lost to UE 72-71 after Parks missed two free throws and an offensive putback as time expired. Although they got their bearings in the second round, it wasn’t enough to get on the Final Four bus as the Bulldogs fell flat on their faces at 6-8 to end the tournament.
That yea, the Bulldogs dueled with FEU in a pair of nailbiters but the Tamaraws prevailed 62-59 and 84-82 in their head-to-head match-ups.
Thus far this Season 75, FEU looked to be the masters of the clutch win as all their previous victories were assured after the final shot had been taken. And the script went the same route with this game.
With 59 seconds left in the match, Bobby Ray Parks went to the 15-foot line to shoot a pair off free throws. The first rimmed out and not all of Parks’ body English could get it to stay in. But Parks adjusted and swished the second. 58-57 for NU.
The Tamaraws had the ball back and they moved it around to find the open man. The predictable thing about the Tams is that you know they are not going inside as they have no real post-up threat. To be fair, it isn’t such a bad idea when FEU’s Terrence Romeo, RR Garcia, Mike Tolomia and the Bruise Brothers (Mark and Arvie Bringas) all have touches from the outside. At that point in time, Romeo had scored 18 points including four treys.
Romeo passed to Garcia who dribbled a couple of times but couldn’t find any room to shoot or drive so he passed it back to his teammate. Romeo, who was on the top of the key this time sent it to the left to Mike Tolomia but he too returned it to the sender. Guess neither Garcia (who has struggled with his shot all game long) nor Tolomia wanted to take the last shot. The problem was the three-guard lineup of coach Bert Flores took too much time to figure out what they wanted to do that by the time Romeo released a desperation trey they were assessed a 24-second shot clock violation. Not that it mattered because Romeo hoisted up a brick.
With a chance to further buffer the lead, Parks lost the ball and teammate Emmanuel Mbe was whistled for a foul. Except that Tamaraw rookie forward Rey Belo missed both free throws. Parks was fouled once more by Garcia and this time he nailed both freebies for a 60-57 lead. From the same spot where he bricked his trey attempt, Romeo tried another. Parks tried to block the ball and Romeo missed. NU Bulldog Mark de Guzman, himself trying to recapture his form when he was with the College of Saint Benilde, tacked on another free throw for the match’s final points and a huge come from behind 61-57 win.
The game was a classic one except that it got overly physical and dirty when the Bruise Brothers (you can actually throw in Carl Cruz as well there) tried to get into the head of Mbe and Parks.
At one point, Arvie Bringas did a Scottie Pippen on Mbe (the Chicago Bull once talked to the Utah Jazz’ Karl Malone before he took a pair of important free throws and the Mailman promptly missed). Cruz pointed to his temple to signify that he was using his brain in the ongoing psy-war. Mbe grinned and when played resumed planted an elbow to Bringas’ jaw in retaliation for getting hacked twice on one play.
Hoping to send the match into an extra five minutes, Romeo took another three-ball attempt from the very same spot where he airballed the previous one. This one missed and as Mark de Guzman tacked on an insurance free throw, NU celebrated a 61-57 comeback win.
FEU led by 13 points during the first half as their game plan worked. Borrowing a tactic from Ateneo’s earlier win over the Bulldogs, the Tamaraws sent two bigs on Parks the moment he got the ball. Unfortunately for NU, his teammates were unable to stick the shot. Either that or they turned the ball over.
NU tried to work some other players to step up. Jeff Javillionar contributed a bit. So did Lee Villamor, Robin Roño and Troy Rosario. But the one player they needed to step up as well was de Guzman.
While at the College of Saint Benilde, de Guzman was the man. He had this punk attitude of trying to do it by himself and picking fights with opponents. I guess the UAAP is another animal as de Guzman is a shade of his former self. For sure he knows that these Bulldogs are Parks’ and Mbe’s team so he’s been a role player. But he’s been known to hit big shots.
At the 6:20 mark of the fourth period, Parks gave the ball to de Guzman to create something. Instead, he airballed a shot. A couple of minutes later, he fumbled an attempt and missed another jumper.
But in the final second of play, he hit a free throw to end the scoring. The look on de Guzman’s face was one of relief (it was his only point in 19 minutes; he also missed his four field goal attempts).
While talking to Coach Eric after the game, he hoped that this game would turn their season around. Henri Betayene (provided a huge lift during NU’s rally when he was huge on defense and when he scored on a drive), Javillionar, Villamor, Roño, and Rosario got their team back in the thick of things but when it’s winning time, the ball was only going to Ray Parks. Conspicuously missing was starting point guard Gelo Alolino. After the UST loss, a few NU officials privately griped if he is the floor general they need to dictate the pace they want. Alolino played 20 minutes, scored six points but had zero assists.
I’d say their offense is much like when LeBron James was in Cleveland – let the superstar create while everyone waits for the dime drop and the kick-out. And if that analogy is correct, then you know that James finally won in Miami when he had other players step up (although he was the man in the end).
The Bulldogs showed they can pull out a rabbit especially since they finally won against a top tier opponent (FEU). But La Salle and Adamson are their final opponents in the first round.
The win saved their season for now. But their next two games will determine how far they will go.
Robin Roño celebrates a massive win for NU.
Personally, I have no idea why Glenn Khobuntin is not playing. I think he's a terrific athlete and could be a nightmare match up with his willingness to drive and take a hit.
On another note, I was appalled at the quality of the officiating yesterday. Especially the Ateneo-UP game. I sat next to someone who was cheering for UP and he too thought that the calls were atrocious and puzzling. In the second game that featured FEU vs. NU, the refs allowed way too much trash talking and physical stuff that I thought a fight was going to break out anytime soon. At one point, Ray Parks sat in front of me (third quarter) and I briefly counseled him to go with the flow and not force things. And to make his guards pay for their physical play. He did. With about three seconds left in the game, he strode over to where I was and he whispered in my ear thanks and some French words for FEU.