Mad dash for UAAP Final 4

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A week after the classic NCAA Season concluded, the UAAP is now brewing its own appealing windup as the Final Four cast nears completion.

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The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers and Ateneo Blue Eagles have all booked a semis ticket, leaving just one more slot for the pursuing De La Salle Green Archers, defending champions National University (NU) Bulldogs and University of the East (UE) Red Warriors.

As of this writing, there are four remaining elimination game days. And by the time to see this column, the Ateneo-La Salle second round face off would have been concluded. The Blue Eagles need the win to get a crack at the top two spots to gain the twice-to-beat advantage in the playoffs. But the Green Archers are also in a must-win situation to catch the last bus to the semis, even when they have two more games left – versus ousted University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons and league-leading FEU.

NU, on the other hand, has still two games in its schedule, versus UP and FEU. The Bulldogs and Archers both have five wins so far and are hoping to sweep their remaining games to punch that semis ticket or at least gain a playoff berth for that last slot.

The Red Warriors (4-8) can still catch up with NU and La Salle as they still have to play UP and Ateneo. So a three-way tie for the No.4 spot is very much possible.

Now, the top-seeded FEU (10-2) and UST (10-3) are close to grabbing the top two spots. But the Tams, whose only two defeats this year came at the hands of the Tigers, have a tougher last two matches, against NU and La Salle. UST’s last elims battle will be versus UP. If Ateneo triumphs over La Salle and UE, and both FEU and UST drop their remaining games, a three-way tie for the top two spots is also a possibility.

The last remaining elimination games will surely be gripping.

Like in the NCAA, there were also some surprises in the UAAP’s 78th Season. UST came out as the biggest surprise after carving its way to the top with convincing wins over powerhouses FEU, Ateneo and La Salle. Ed Dacquiaog, Ke¬vin Ferrer and Karim Abdul took charge for the Tigers, and led a team of young second stringers to upset the usual superpowers. Second-year coach Bong Dela Cruz has turned things around after his team missed the Final Four last year.

Ateneo, on the other hand, struggled at the beginning but got its bearings back to barge into the semis. Coach Bo Perasol announced that this would be his final year with the Blue Eagles. But if they make it all the way to the title, who knows? The key for the team’s resurgence is the contributions of the bench players. From a Kiefer Ravena-Von Pessumal squad, the Eagles got some lift now from the likes of Arvin Tolentino, Chibueze Ikeh, Gwyne Capacio, Pons Gotladera, Matt Nieto and Adrian Wong.

La Salle and NU were thought to be shoo-ins in the semis but found themselves in a must-win situation in their remaining games to get to the playoffs. With fresh recruits from the high school ranks, the Green Archers seem to still be finding its chemistry as the team’s rotation has changed from last year. Jeron Teng, Thomas Torres, Jason Perkins and Prince Rivero still carry the cudgels for La Salle. Former San Beda Cub Andrei Caracut is now starting at the two-spot and has wowed the UAAP in some games. But somehow, the Archers are still missing the valuable services of Arnold Van Opstal and Almond Vosotros. But they will always be dangerous in the last remaining games.

The Bulldogs are still hoping to follow up on their amazing title run last season. But without the incomparable Troy Rosario, NU seems to lack the leadership on the floor in certain games. Alfred Aroga, Gelo Alolino and Paolo Javelona must take charge to defend the crown. And the young guns – Rev Diputado, Jay-jay Alejandro and Nico Abatayo must step up as well.

Brace yourselves for a rousing UAAP semis series that’s just around the corner.

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