MANILA, Philippines—The National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs did not let star center Jack Animam down in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 82 women's basketball finals.
Animam was forced to miss the contest against University of Santo Tomas, as she had to remain in New Zealand after the Gilas Pilipinas women's campaign in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament. This, as she caught an elbow in their game against South Korea on Nov. 16, and suffered an injury below her right eye.
"She has to stay there, as a precaution," said NU head coach Pat Aquino, who assured that Animam did not need to undergo surgery.
She could not fly back with the team to Manila, however, and could not play against the Golden Tigresses in the first game of their best-of-3 title series. Without Animam, the Lady Bulldogs struggled to put UST away; it was a one-possession game with 1:40 to go, 67-65, after a basket by UST center Grace Irebu.
Kaye Pingol came to NU's rescue, drilling a 3-pointer for a 70-65 spread with 1:32 left. The Lady Bulldogs held on for the 5-point win, their 95th straight triumph, which also brought them one game closer to a six-peat.
"(We're) sad because Jack wasn't here, playing with us," said Aquino. "But I’m happy that everybody stepped up."
Aquino talked to Animam ahead of the game, and the player was devastated to have missed such an important contest.
"She was saying, 'Coach, ikaw na bahala diyan.' Sabi ko naman sa kanya, this is for you'," said Aquino.
"She was really sad, not coming back. We know that she's been part of the NU 5-peat, and now that she's not here in the championship, she really felt bad. She wanted to play today," he added.
Kelli Hayes, who played with Animan in the pre-OQT and wound up with 16 points against UST, said they dedicated the win to their injured teammate.
"Of course we missed Jack not being here tonight. But we played for her, we played for NU, and we played for the NU community," she said.
Aquino is hopeful that Animam can return to the country by Saturday, ahead of Game 2 of the series against the Golden Tigresses.
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