by Jerome Lagunzad
UAAP runner-up National University earned another solid proof last night why it is considered by many as one of the top dogs in the country’s high school ranks.
Showing steely nerves down the stretch, the Bullpups outlasted reigning NCAA champion La Salle Greenies in a nerve-wracking finish, 80-78, to claim the 2018 Exped SM-National Basketball Training Center Division 1 crown at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Wingman Gerry Abadiano capped his 24-point performance with a pair of go-ahead freebies with 29.9 seconds left while Michael Malonzo came through with a gem of a defensive stop against top La Salle guard Joel Cagulangan in the closing seconds to help NU pull through.
The dramatic victory could serve as a perfect tonic for NU, which came up short against formidable Ateneo in their classic UAAP juniors cage finals encounter early this month.
Cagulangan led all scorers with 25 points, 10 of them coming in the final canto, highlighted by a gorgeous lay-up over NU defender Cyril Gonzales that enabled La Salle-Greenhills to wipe out an 11-point deficit and tie things up at 77-apiece with 49.5 seconds remaining, setting the stage for a cardiac finish.
After Abadiano put the Bullpups back on top with a two pressure-packed freebies, Cagulangan was sent to the 15-foot line in the ensuing possession, making his first try before missing the back-end.
Cagulangan tracked down the offensive rebound and tried to score the potential go-ahead bucket, only to get foiled by Malonzo, as the Bullpups took the possession back with 7.3 seconds to play.