MANILA, Philippines -- Dave Ildefonso has already conceded the Rookie of the Year race to budding rival CJ Cansino of University of Santo Tomas (UST), but the National University (NU) swingman can take comfort in the two wins that they have over the Growling Tigers this year.
Ildefonso and Cansino were touted as the two top contenders for the top rookie award early in the season, though Ateneo de Manila University center Angelo Kouame has emerged as the No. 1 candidate, given that he is eligible for the honor by virtue of graduating from a Philippine-based high school.
The two freshmen were again the stars of the show for their respective teams on Sunday, when NU and UST faced off for the second time in Season 81. The rematch played out much like their first encounter did with Ildefonso overpowering Cansino down the stretch to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
Ildefonso scored seven of NU’s last 12 points, and finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in the 69-61 win. Cansino had impressive numbers as well, with 8 points, 18 boards, and 5 dimes, but he simply could not stop the bigger, stronger Ildefonso in crunch time.
“Siguro frustrated pero move on na lang kasi maganda naman nilaro, kaso 'di lang talaga binigay sa amin ang panalo,” said Cansino, after UST lost to NU for the second time in one season. “Move on na lang and kailangan namin i-improve ang mga next game namin.
He admits that he feels frustrated on a personal level after failing to contain Ildefonso down the stretch: the NU swingman had muscled his way past Cansino in back-to-back possessions for crucial baskets in the final five minutes of the game.
“Sinasabi ko rin sa sarili ko na kailangan ko talaga mag-improve, pero andoon na eh. Move on na lang siguro, and trabaho na lang,” he said.
Ildefonso, for his part, won’t deny that his match-up with Cansino is a big motivating factor. They dueled each other in their first round meeting, and wound up with a 75-70 triumph back then.
“Ang daming comparisons,” he noted. “Nakikita ko ‘yun sa social media na, CJ Cansino, ROY. ‘Di naman sa bitter ako, pero siyempre, as a player, ‘yung competition laging andoon.”
“He does really bring out the best in me,” Ildefonso said of Cansino. “Magaling na player eh, so you have to perform para at least magka level kayo or he is just one step above.”
Unless both of their teams make it to the Final 4 -- which is far from certain given their records -- this will be the last time in Season 81 that Cansino and Ildefonso will face off. As early as now, however, Ildefonso is already looking forward to future battles with the hard-working UST guard.
"(He’s a) great player,” said Ildefonso. "(In the) years to come, sana maglaban pa kami more, and we’re gonna have mutual improvement sa isa’t isa. I look forward to seeing him again.”
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