Can NU continue its winning ways?

Pen Lazarte (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

EXACTLY a year today, the longest championship drought in UAAP history came to an end when NU finally won its second title after 60 years of wait.

Fast forward to today. The Bulldogs seemed not to be like the Bulldogs of last year.

In fact, they seemed to be heading to an early elimination as they only have a 3-5 record so far this season, an unlikely eight-game slate for a team which won the title the previous season.

If you take a closer look, though, the current team standing of NU was a result of a string of streaks.

The Bulldogs started with three straight losses. Many would say, "They played La Salle and Ateneo. They're tough oppositions anyway," but take note that sandwiching their victories was a win by UE, which is also surprisingly struggling (UE had an impressive preseason campaign).

Then, an Alfred Aroga game-winner happened. He swooshed in what was otherwise an ill-advised jumper that turned out to be the marginal basket in NU's win over UST, which was interestingly its only loss so far.

Coach Eric Altamirano said after the team's first win that it came a few days too late as the Bulldogs had a huge chance against the Blue Eagles, who walked away victorious in double overtime.

"Dapat nga noong [laro namin sa Ateneo]," Altamirano answered when he was asked if the victory came at the best timing.

Meanwhile, FEU coach Nash Racela thought it was the start of something big for NU.

"Isang panalo lang, tuluy-tuloy na yan," Racela said.

Then came two more wins, but those came against UP and Adamson, teams many expected to get those defeats.

So, the finals rematch took place. The Tamaraws engaged in a game of resiliency before they made much-needed shots in the clutch.

That loss, however, turned out to be the start of another mini-slump for the Bulldogs as they once again lost to the Red Warriors to start the second round.

The season-series sweep of UE turned out to be two-thirds of its only wins so far in the season (the other was against Adamson).

The struggles of NU show that Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin, who would join Talk 'n Text and NLEX respectively via the PBA Draft, were big losses from last year's championship team considering that Jeoff Javillonar is still looking for his pre-ACL injury form and Kyle Neypes' numbers are not that impressive.

But for the Nationalians, take note that your team is just one game out of the Final Four (or even third place if you consider the fact at La Salle and Ateneo are tied).

It, however, takes consistency. The Bulldogs will once again face two of the teams they defeated, the Growling Tigers on Saturday and the Soaring Falcons on Wednesday.

But the defending champs should expect things to be different this time, especially for the Growling Tigers, who have been in a huge renaissance.

On whether NU at least makes the Final Four anew or not relies probably on these games.

Winning them both should keep things fine. A loss or two could hamper the team's bid.

But we've seen "miracles" happen in recent times, so a huge comeback by NU is still possible. Who knows? NU can at least make the UAAP as "kagulo" as the NCAA.

Yes, the Bulldogs are down in the standings, but the UAAP season is far from over, and one should not forget that they are the reigning and defending champions.

(Disclaimer: The opinions by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.)

Follow the writer on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno