Posted Feb 16th 2014
Eric Altamirano: We got intimidated
By Paolo Mariano Posted Sep 23rd 2013
National University (NU) head coach Eric Altamirano was reluctant to face the press waiting for him outside the Bulldogs’ locker room Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. They just lost to University of Santo Tomas (UST), 71-62, in their Final Four match-up. But when the questions came, he didn’t hold his tongue at all. He generously gave praises to the Growling Tigers.
“UST showed its championship experience. Right from the start, we got intimated. I think that’s the exact word for it. We lost our discipline. It was hard for us to come back in the second half,” said Altamirano.
Star wingman Ray Parks echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We came out passive, too relaxed. Coming from the long break, our heads weren’t in the game,” said the two-time MVP.
The top-seeded Bulldogs indeed looked lethargic in the first few minutes of the game. They were a step slower on defense and didn’t look aggressive on offense. They were a stark contrast to the Growling Tigers, who readily stormed out of their cage for an early 11-1 run with all the starters scoring a basket. NU also had 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“UST started out aggressive on the defensive end. Honestly, we were caught off guard. You really have to give credit to them (Growling Tigers). They played good, physical defense, especially on Ray (Parks) and Jean (Emmanuel Mbe),” said Altamirano.
The opening pounce of Pido Jarencio and his ambush set the tone for majority of the outing. They led by as much as 18 points in several instances, keyed on their transition attack, balanced scoring, and the hot outside sniping of Kevin Ferrer, who drilled four long range hits.
“We didn’t adjust well to UST’s aggressiveness. We forced our shots, we lost our composure, we gave up lots of transition points,” said Altamirano, who led NU to its first ever top seed finish in the Final Four era.
The conquistadores of España tallied 14 markers each from fastbreak, second chance, and turnover points—more than half of their entire production. Curiously, NU, which led the league in points off the break at the end of the elimination round with 11.6, only managed three. Free throws also played a huge factor with the Bulldogs miffing 12 of their 28 attempts (57.1%), while the Growling Tigers finished 14-of-16 (87.5%).
The Bulldogs, however, put up a good fight. They went on a 14-0 onslaught in the payoff period to slash UST’s lead down to four, 63-59 with 3:29 remaining in the contest. But Jeric Teng connected from long range in the ensuing possession to douse cold water on NU’s late charge.
The Sampaloc-based squad actually even had a golden chance to cut the lead to just three with a little over four minutes left but Mbe flubbed a wide-open dunk, a shot he could make even with his eyes gouged by a knife.
“What can I say, breaks of the game,” said a frustrated Altamirano. “I don’t want to make excuses. They (Growling Tigers) were sharp, they shot very well. They really did a good job today,” said the 47-year-old Altamirano.
It’s back to the pound for the Bulldogs, who are looking to barge into the Finals for the first time in more than 40 years. Fortunately for them, they have a precious mulligan in the semifinals. They still have time to regroup, rethink, and reclaim their territory.
“We have to focus on our mindset. We have to be prepared to handle that kind of intimidation and physicality. We have to stay positive and make good use of our twice-to-beat,” said Altamirano.
History is on the side of NU as no fourth seed has ever advanced to the Last Dance. How’s that for a jolt of positivity?