NU builds scorching streak heading into showdown vs Quiambao-fueled La Salle

NU Bulldogs' Kean Baclaan in the UAAP Season 86 men's basketball tournament. –MARLO CUETO/

NU Bulldogs’ Kean Baclaan in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament. –MARLO CUETO/

There’s been a lot of talk in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament lately.

Ateneo’s win over University of the Philippines. University of Santo Tomas (UST) finally putting an end to a ghastly slump. And, lately, Kevin Quiambao’s rise to a Most Valuable Player (MVP) contender. “I’m honored and blessed to be part [of that list] and emerged as No. 1 … [I]t feels good to see your name there but our main focus should be winning the game,” Quiambao said on Wednesday.

Quietly, though, one program has become the hottest team in the league.

Avoiding a fourth-quarter meltdown largely through the efforts of Kean Baclaan, National University (NU) won its fifth straight game in Season 86 after nipping University of the East (UE), 64-61, at the start of the second round of eliminations at Mall of Asia Arena.

Down by four with under three and a half minutes remaining, Baclaan gathered his teammates and reminded them about the need to keep the team’s momentum rolling.

“I huddled them and said: We can’t lose because we need this momentum for Saturday,” said Baclaan, who scored 18 points, had five rebounds and three assists.

Go-ahead triple

He then proceeded to score five straight points, including the go-ahead triple that gave National U a 62-61 edge after which some big stops, unfortunate misses by UE’s Precious Momowei and two free throws by the Bulldogs’ Jake Figueroa iced the final count with 5.3 seconds left.

And so it’s off to Saturday for NU, where it will be up against Quiambao and the Archers.

La Salle may not be carrying much of a streak, but it will ride the wave of a 100-69 rout of the Tigers, who crashed back to reality after plugging a 19-game losing streak over the weekend.

Quiambao, who is on track to be the league’s first local MVP after Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena won the award back-to-back in 2014 and 2015, dropped 22 points on UST while piling up 12 rebounds, six assists, five steals and a block in 23 minutes of action.

“All of my statistics came from the system of coach Topex [Robinson], coach Caloy [Garcia] and all of the coaches. I just repay their trust and I have to step up because I have a bigger role this year,” said the 6-foot-8 Quiambao.

He’s going to be another coach’s worry.

Bulldogs coach Jeff Napa said the win over UE was important for league-leading NU (7-1, win-loss) as it heads into that showdown against La Salle (5-3)—and beyond.

“We have to go through this challenge so it will strengthen us for the obstacles that we will go through [in the] second round. It was a hard-fought win but at least [it was] a good comeback [for the team],” Napa said.

Health concerns“Credit to my players despite being down by four points, they didn’t let up. They made three crucial stops to regain our momentum. We will shift our focus on our next game against La Salle, but our concern will be the health of our players. Hopefully, we will come ready on Saturday.”

The health concerns include Steve Nash Enriquez, who hurt his jaw after he got elbowed midway through the third. Napa said that they would get Enriquez’s jaw assessed immediately.

UE took a fifth straight loss, sliding to a 2-6 record before facing the Tigers (1-6) on Saturday.

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The Warriors were led by Noy Remogat, who gave his team its last taste of the lead before Baclaan took over. The spitfire guard had 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and eight steals.

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