Tamaraws stun Bulldogs; Eagles torment Warriors

LJ Gonzales came through in the stretch for FEU. —UAAP MEDIA

ANTIPOLO CITY — At halftime, against a team that was shooting so well that Ateneo could not seem to put it away, Tab Baldwin issued a challenge to his players.

“When I walked into the dugout at halftime, I told them that UE (University of the East) had a 55-percent shooting. When you want to take pride in your defense, you cannot be proud of that,” Baldwin said.

He did not want his team to merely tighten its defense. He wanted the Blue Eagles’ defense to cause torment.

Far Eastern University (FEU) coach Olsen Racela, on the other hand, wanted defense to simply give his team a chance.

Both coaches got what they wished for, with the Tamaraws pulling off a stunning upset on Sunday that gave an idling University of the Philippines the solo first-round lead in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.

LJ Gonzales sliced through the teeth of the National University (NU) Bulldogs’ defense with 17.6 seconds remaining as FEU escaped with a 47-44 victory at Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

But more than Gonzales’ heroics, it was the Tamaraws’ defense that allowed them to yank the rug from under an NU squad that was looking to room in with the defending champions Maroons at the top of the standings entering the second round.

“It was a defensive game. We needed that defensive mindset coming into this game and it gave us the chance,’’ said Racela, whose wards notched their second straight win after five straight losses to enter the second round with a little momentum.

Gonzales scooted past Steve Nash Enriquez off the dribble and scooped the shot that pegged the count.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without the trust of my coaches. It wasn’t for me, that shot was for my team,’’ said Gonzales, who earlier missed back-to-back jumpers before his game-sealing basket.

Ateneo, meanwhile, found joy in UE’s grief in the second half before cruising to a 91-76 victory earlier in the day.

NU’s loss and Ateneo’s victory left both squads tied at 5-2 (win-loss), behind UP’s 6-1 card.

“In the third quarter, it was evident to everybody that our team can be tough defensively and they enjoyed those moments,’’ said Baldwin. “It’s harsh as it sounds, but sometimes there’s joy in seeing your opponent get demoralized in the good feeling that you have by playing well and we do preach it.’’

Ahead by just two at the break, the Blue Eagles zoomed to a 19-point lead while riding on a 17-0 blitz as Dave Ildefonso, Bryan Andrade and Rence Padrigao peppered UE with timely hits from outside while Ange Kouame dominated the paint.

Ateneo’s defense forced the Warriors to misfire on their first nine attempts, including seven from three-point range.

Ateneo now plans to use the coming break wisely, especially with the Blue Eagles looking at an early classic second-round encounter with the Archers.

“We’re pretty comfortable where we’re at. Of course, we’d like to have a higher placing, but we’ve lost two games, two competitive games. UP is the standard setter in the league right now and La Salle, that’s a rivalry game,’’ said Baldwin.

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