We expected an even-steven match-up between the UST Growling Tigers and the FEU Tamaraws. It was evident in Games 1 and 2 of the UAAP Season 78 Finals that both sides were equally competitive and hungry for a title. And so the set is stage for the ultimate showdown in the winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
FEU showed tremendous poise in Game 1, unleashing a 14-2 run in end game from a nip and tuck payoff period en route to the victory. But in Game 2, just when the Tams threatened to finish off the Tigers after posting a commanding 30-21 halftime lead, Kevin Ferrer went berserk in the third canto, lighting up the Smart Araneta Coliseum with 24 of his game-high 29 points to save the day for his alma mater.
Coaches Nash Racela and Bong Dela Cruz have done a stellar job in this championship series. Racela, who also led the Tams to a bridesmaid finish last season, is a highly systematic tactician and always comes to a game well prepared. His defensive tactics are remarkable. But it was tough to defend against Ferrer in Game 2, who unconsciously unloaded six triples, most of which were contested. Ferrer, at almost 6’5”, is a sensational jump shooter from long distance. The Tams rotated on him defensively and did everything in the books to shackle the former UAAP Juniors MVP but to no avail. For his part, second-year UST mentor Dela Cruz did a better job in Game 2 playing his cards. He was often criticized for using a shallow bench rotation. But in Game 2, he utilized a 10-man rotation that proved enough to hang tough in end game when FEU attempted a forceful comeback.
Some numbers however are still constant after Game 2. The rebounding battle still belongs to FEU, which controlled the boards 55-42, including 15 offensive caroms. The Tams’ Achilles heel in the series is its turnovers. They had 16 in Game 2, which gave the Tigers 14 markers. The field goal shooting between both squads was not too far apart – UST 29.69 percent and FEU 27.12 percent.
But the big difference in Game 2 was undoubtedly Ferrer’s incredible third-quarter explosion that left everybody breathless. In contrast, FEU main man Mike Tolomia was atrocious on the floor. In fact, he was worse than atrocious as he went 0-of-15 from the field. He tried desperately to save FEU from the jaws of death in the final few minutes but his patented step-back treys were all off target. He finished with seven markers, all-coming from the stripe. Mac Belo and RR Pogoy were steady but their combined 28 points were not enough to overcome the red-hot Tigers. Prince Orizu, who was the X-factor in Game 1, could only produce three points and six boards. The other Tams were sub par too. Russel Escoto and Monbert Arong, two of FEU’s reliable back-up scorers, went blank as well. Karim Abdul and Ed Daquioag gave Ferrer some support with 11 and 10 points respectively.
But when the title is on the line, we can expect all the big guns to show up and come out firing. Ferrer will be back with his deadly form, inspired by that magical third quarter performance in Game 2. He is determined to win a crown for UST in his final game as a Tiger. Daquioag, who has been the Tigers’ most improved cager this season, will also want a part of the spot light. And Abdul, another graduating player, will muscle his way to glory, Orizu or no Orizu.
Expect also Tolomia to return with a vengeance. He is, without a doubt, one of the top scoring guards in all of college basketball. In his swan song in the UAAP, Mike will definitely bring out his best game. And so will fellow graduating Tams Belo and Pogoy. Belo has been hero for FEU in so many games and you can bet that he will leave everything on the floor. Pogoy will try to do a Ferrer with his dreaded outside sniping.
So let’s just sit back, relax and enjoy as the Big Guns put on a show for all the marbles on Wednesday.