Aroga blames self for struggles, but left puzzled by decisions of UAAP refs
MANILA, Philippines – National University (NU) big man Alfred Aroga and his Bulldogs lost their sixth straight game in UAAP Season 79 on Thursday, October 27, by falling to the now 4-8 UP Fighting Maroons at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
After starting the season impressively winning its first two games and looking like the second best team in the league behind consensus favorite La Salle, chances of NU now making the Final Four for a fifth straight season are slim.
A reason for National U’s struggles has been the dip in production of Aroga, the 2014 UAAP Finals MVP. The Cameroonian center’s scoring is down from 13.2 points per game last year to 10.3 this season, and his rebounding has also decreased from 12.9 per game last year to 9.7 this season.
Additionally, Aroga has committed 38 fouls through 12 games for an average of 3.2 a contest - the third most in the UAAP. Given the slower pace the Bulldogs play with, their center’s fouling issue is more harmful for NU compared to other teams in the league.
After the loss to the Maroons, Aroga, who’s playing in his final season of eligibility, made it clear that he’s most to blame for his lackadaisical play in Season 79, but admitted he’s also been left perplexed by some of the decisions the referees have made.
“I don’t know. The referees, they’re humans, right? I understand that they might make some [mistakes], but come on,” he told Rappler after emerging last from NU’s locker room following the loss on Wednesday.
“If they have a personal problem with me, let them tell me straight here,” he added.
Aroga shared that even if he is the team captain, he doesn’t talk to the referees on the court during heated moments. The big man also explained that he’s not okay letting what he feels are bad decisions by the officials slide just because he should be a “tough player.”
“I’m the team captain, but I don’t even go there to listen to what they’re saying cause I don’t want to feel them [out]. It’s frustrating. I don’t know. You go for [a] block, foul. You put a screen, foul. You have the ball, travel. I don’t know.
“They’re humans. They might make [mistakes]. The might make errors, but every game, come on. Yeah, they’re going to say, ‘You’re a tough player, you don’t have to mind the refs.’ But why are they there, then? They’re there to help players in order to play the game, right?
"I’m not trying to find any excuses - there’s no excuses, the way I’m playing is my fault - but still, the refs."
Aroga, who’s arguably the Bulldogs’ best player and most important rim deterrent on defense, wound up playing only 14.7 minutes against UP, which rallied from an early 21-10 deficit to steal the win. The NU center finished with only two points on 3 shot attempts, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, and fouled out of the match.
Many of the Bulldogs’ losses have coincided with games where Aroga had to sit on the bench due to foul issues, further magnifying his importance to the team and the impact of his absence on the court.
“They’re doing their job. I’m just expressing what I feel this season. They can call whatever they want. When they call a foul already, you can’t do anything. They (the opponent) makes a basket, you take the ball in order to give to the ref, they’ll say warning. They’ll give you a technical foul because you were holding the ball,” he said.
“I don’t know. I have nothing to say about that,” Aroga responded when asked if he feels the UAAP officials have a vendetta against him. “They’re doing their job but I’m just expressing what I feel about them. Today, the fouls I had, it doesn’t make sense at all.”
Aroga pointed out how he was left especially baffled by the fourth and fifth fouls called on him against UP, both of which were assessed at crucial points of the close game where NU’s Final Four hopes were essentially on the line.
“Can you imagine the fourth foul they gave me? I was just running and the guy just stayed there, they said I pushed him. I went for the block on [Jett] Manuel, my hand was right on top, they said it’s a foul.”
The subject of the inconsistency of the UAAP referees this season has been a popular topic. Many fans at the arenas and social media have voiced their displeasure with the officials’ questionable calls, and even DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo was suspended a game after trying to put eyeglasses on one referee who missed a foul call on Green Archer Thomas Torres during their game against UE in the first round.
“No comment,” Ayo said after the match. “I have nothing good to say, so I won’t say anything at all.”
Rappler has also learned that a number of head coaches in the league have let UAAP commissioner Rebo Saguisag know about their concerns with this season’s officiating.
“Being an athlete, you’re one of the members of the team, so you always get fouls and you have to sit out. What kind of basketball are you going to play?” asked Aroga.
On the topic of how his team have free fallen in the standings, Aroga was left at a lost for words.
With two games remaining on their schedule and already 8 losses on their record, the Bulldogs will need a miracle in order to catch Ateneo (6-4) or Adamson (5-5) for a shot at gaining one of the last two semifinal positions.
“I’m just speechless. I’m speechless. I don’t know where to start. This is the most painful season I’ve ever had. I don’t know what to say. I really lack words. I don’t know where to start, what to say, I’m just speechless,” said Aroga.
When asked what has been the root of the issues for NU, one of the most successful UAAP programs in recent memory and just two years removed from a championship, Aroga couldn’t find an answer as well.
“I have no words. I myself I try to find out. I don’t know.”
The Bulldogs have games against the UE Red Warriors and Adamson Soaring Falcons remaining on their schedule. – Rappler.com