The University of the East ended its first round on a positive note, defeating National University, 78-72, Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Alex Diakhite did the heavy lifting for his squad with a 22-point, 13-rebound performance. The Senegalese center added two assists, three blocks, and three steals, overshadowing his nine turnovers. Philip Manalang added 13 points, spiked by three triples while Rey Suerte overcame a slow start for a solid outing of 12 points seven rebounds, and six assists.
The Red Warriors also got a huge lift from first-year forward Neil Tolentino who chipped in with 12 points while hounding NU's top scorers.
"Maybe we just got lucky today," said UE active consultant Lawrence Chongson. "The players' resolve was able to carry us today. We knew that if we should lose today, it would be almost impossible for us to get back."
It was a game of runs for the two schools hungry for another win. UE was nursing back-to-back losses while NU was coming off a breakthrough win versus FEU.
The Red Warriors came out firing, jumping into an early 12-point first quarter lead. That set the tone for the majority of the contest but the Bulldogs kept knocking on the door. Led by a breakout performance from Patrick Yu, NU kept within striking distance. The Bulldogs, however, only got close to a point, 69-68, in the last three minutes, and could not steal the win. Timely counters from Tolentino, Suerte, and Diakhite thwarted every run as UE held on for the victory.
"Of course we'll try to come out stronger," said Chongson. "I said after the game, 'the win today should only serve as an inspiration to teach us how to win.' We shouldn't accept that we always lose. We should cherish this win, not to celebrate today's win in particular but going forward, carry this and make it a habit. Make winning a habit."
Yu was the surprise contributor for NU as he led his squad with 17 points on an efficient 7-for-12 shooting. Before Sunday, he only put up a total of seven points in five games. Shaun Ildefonso had 11 points while JV Gallego and Migs Oczon netted eight each. The Bulldogs' main offensive weapon Dave Ildefonso struggled with just six points on 3-for-13 shooting while committing seven turnovers.
With the hard-earned victory, the Red Warriors snapped their two-game skid and improved to a 2-5 record. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, ended the first round in last place at 1-6.
"Of course, [at] 2-5, we take everything with a grain of salt. This is our destiny. Maybe it's just a way for the boys to get motivation not just in basketball, but in their lives as well."
UE 78 - Diakhite 22, Manalang 13, Suerte 12, Tolentino 12, Abanto 8, Antiporda 6, Cruz 5, Apacible 0, Lorenzana 0, Pagsanjan 0
NU 72 - Yu 17, Ildefonso S 11, Gallego 8, Oczon 8, Clemente 6, Ildefonso D 6, Joson 5, Malonzo 5, Gaye 4, Tibayan 2, Galinato 0, Mangayao 0, Minerva 0, Mosqueda 0
QUARTERS: 18-12, 37-32, 57-47, 78-72
The Red Warriors shot a blistering 54.7 percent from the floor, the highest field-goal percentage by any team so far this season, according to league statistician Pong Ducanes.
With Sunday's victory, UE already eclipsed its win total from last season.