Analysis: NU’s loss to Adamson
by rick olivares
There’s a misnomer at the top of the defensive standings.
Two of the top three-ranked defensive squads in this young UAAP Men’s Basketball season are at .500 or a 2-2 slate if you will — #1 National University, and #3 Ateneo de Manila University who respectively surrender 66.3 and 68.0 points per game. And both squads are coming off loses.
After its impressive victory over Ateneo, the NU Bulldogs have come crashing down to earth with successive defeats. First to La Salle in beguiling fashion (as Alfred Aroga became the Invisible Man) then to Adamson (where the rest of the Bulldogs turned in their best disappearing act); a disappointing 64-51 loss.
Like Ateneo, Far Eastern University, and the University of the East, NU (and Adamson) have young squads with few veterans; hence, a lack of game maturity and vision for the game. Not everyone is Kiefer Ravena or Jeron Teng who seem to have been born ready.
After only turning the ball over six times in the first half, NU committed 14 errors in the last 20 minutes with 9 coming in the last quarter; and four in succession by veteran guard JJ Alejandro. At the start of those shocking errors by Alejandro, NU was down by five, 56-51; however there was only 1:49 left in the game. In all the successive turnovers, Adamson tacked on a point or two effectively ending any chance of a comeback. Alejandro’s misfortune is just as shocking as NU’s last two losses.
This isn’t to say that NU could beat La Salle; they had a chance except Aroga did his best interpretation of a traffic cone for Jeron Teng to slalom around (aside from committing every possible infraction outside an outright disqualifying one). And in this match against Adamson, they had put the defensive clamps on the Falcons except that the Bulldogs misfired.
In their first two wins, it was Aroga, Rev Diputado, and Alejandro who carried them in the fourth periods. In the last two loses, in one game, Alejandro was there in the pay-off period with the others missing and in the last game, it was only Aroga with the other two absent. It is no coincidence that all three (aside from Dave Yu who has fallen off the depth chart) are the last holdovers from their champion squad of two seasons ago. Matt Salem is a huge addition to this team and his work ethic is a joy to watch (he previously never really crashed the board when he played for La Salle for two seasons) but he needs to find his groove in the fourth period where teams tend to shackle him.
Incidentally, this is their first match where NU has been outrebounded.
The secret of this team’s success has been solid recruiting, a very good and organized system that gets its cues from defense with different offensive sets culled from head coach Eric Altamirano’s solid basketball mind. Yet as in the case of their title squad, it takes years to build them. That team was ready and went through several heart-breaking defeats before they picked up the requisite experience, maturity, and motivation to take it to the next level. This team is young.
But that does not excuse the poor play of Aroga who is a pale shadow of his old self that wowed crowd in the summer of Season 76 and the entire Season 77. Since then, he’s pulled a Houdini — now you see him, now you don’t. This isn’t to disparage him as we know he is a great talent. But he is far from the frightening form that dunked on foes on the break or the half-court set, who swatted shots all the way to the ringside seats, and well, scored pretty much how and when he wanted to.
While Aroga's general stats the past two seasons will show that he has bettered them a few points, it is in the big games where he isn’t present. Last season, he opened NU’s campaign by scoring only 9 against La Salle, averaged only 10.0 points in two loses to a UE team with no one tall enough to guard him, a mere 10 against Ateneo and seven points to close out their elimination round against La Salle once more.
Or maybe it is because he was a perfect complement to a stud-team that included the likes of Gelo Alolino, Troy Rosario, Glen Khobuntin along with valuable role players like Kyle Neypes and Paolo Javelona? During their championship season, Aroga, Alolino, and Rosario led them in scoring. Last Season 78, people opined that NU “is only Alolino and Aroga”. This campaign, it’s Aroga and Matt Salem. They need another player to pick up the scoring slack.
Furthermore in my opinion, it isn’t skill but a mental challenge at this point as they are performing below par and what we have seen they can do. The Bulldogs have a top-notch coaching staff and support group who can handle that. Except that they cannot afford too many missteps at this point lest other teams get up on them in the standings.
As much as NU is suffering from poor play from its veterans, Adamson has played very well. Of their “Big Three” of Papi Sarr, Rob Manalang, and Jerrick Ahanmisi, it is only the former who played an overall very good game. Ahanmisi came through in the final period after a great defensive job dropped on him by NU. Manalang wasn’t able to break free of the shackles unlike how he did versus Ateneo. But this time, they had rising star Sean Manganti as some other of its young players in Khristian Bernardo and JDee Tungcab score big in the clutch for the win.
Despite the misfortune of NU, they are still in the upper tier of the standings but bunched with teams like Ateneo, FEU, and UST who all tote similar 2-2 records. But it doesn’t get any easier than that as they take on UST, UP, and FEU in their last remaining first round assignments.
If they want to stay within striking distance of Adamson that is now in solo second with a 3-1 record (behind La Salle’s 4-0 slate), they need to have their veterans lead this young team.