National University quickly turned what was expected to be a tight semifinal game against defending champion Ateneo de Manila into a dominant romp Saturday.
With Ray Parks providing the needed scoring punch, the rampaging Bulldogs dethroned the Blue Eagles with a masterful 85-68 semifinal win that sealed their spot in the finals of the Filoil-Flying V Pre-Season Cup at The Arena in San Juan.
Hitting his stride early on, Parks bucked his foul woes and went on to finish with a game-high 30 points on a splendid 12-of-17 shooting in 31 minutes as the Bulldogs racked up their 10th straight win, made their first-ever finals stint in the tourney and clearly sent an ominous warning to the field ahead of the UAAP cage wars.
Jeoff Javillonar collected 13 markers, spiked by two treys, while Denice Villamor had 12 and Nigerian import Emmanuel Mbe added 10 points and six rebounds while also making life difficult for Ateneo’s 7-foot center Greg Slaughter.
And the way his chargers, who were coming off a productive training camp in China, have been singing beautiful music together on the court leaves coach Eric Altamirano in high spirits.
“They continue to believe in each other and also in theirselves,” stressed Altamirano. “It’s not easy to beat Ateneo. So this is a morale-boosting for us. Talagang makakatulong sa confidence ng mga bata to grow and mature.”
Now starting to gain a fair share of the sports limelight since the arrival of the Sy family, the Bulldogs will battle the winner of La Salle-San Beda tussle in a winner-take-all game on Tuesday also at The Arena.
“Kahit sino makalaban,” stated Altamirano. “For sure, it’ll be an interesting game.”
After asserting himself in the first half, Slaughter groped for form in the final 20 minutes against Mbe and fellow reinforcement Joel Betayene, who took turns in pushing the Ateneo center out of his comfort zone that visibly disrupted the Eagles’ half-court plays.
Slaughter still finished with a team-high 21 points, 13 coming in the first half, along with seven boards, three assists and as many assists. Nico Salva had 14 points on a dismal 7-of-17 outing from the field for Ateneo, which shot an anemic 41 percent (21-of-51) overall.
Parks picked up his fourth personal foul against Kiefer Ravena early in the fourth, forcing Altamirano to pull him out.
With Parks watching from the bench, the Blue Eagles gamely capitalized and pulled to within 75-62 behind the exploits of Juami Tiongson midway in the fourth canto.
Then came Parks, who entered at the 4:44 mark and sparked the Bulldogs’ blinding 10-4 rally closeout with a surprisingly unmolested dunk that virtually took the wind out of the Blue Eagles’ sails.
“He (Parks) really carried us through. He provided the scoring for us and that’s really a big help for the team,” added Altamirano, whose charges also drained 10 treys en route to a sizzling 51 percent (33-of-65) shooting from the field.
Hounded by NU’s choking defense all throughout, Ravena was held down to eight points coming from eight limited attempts. Tiongson also had eight markers.