Season favorites Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws lived up to the hype by taking the first finals seat in the UAAP Season 78 men’s basketball hostilities via a sensational 76-74 win over the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Mac Belo once again proved to be the hero after a well-timed put back of Mike Tolomia’s missed lay-up with just 0.4 second left in play. It was Belo who also hit the buzzer-beating trey versus La Salle last year that elevated FEU to the finals.
Third-year coach Nash Racela is hoping that this year’s trip to the finals will have a happy ending for FEU. Last season, after taking Game 1, the Tams bowed to the Troy Rosario-led National University Bulldogs in the final two games to lose the title. “Our end goal is to win the title. But we know it’s not going to be easy. All we can do is prepare well and I think our players are ready,” said the soft-spoken Racela.
Nash is no stranger to championship games. He once led the Batangas Blades to a title in the now-defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA). As deputy coach of Talk N’ Text, he has also been in several PBA championship matches. His main strengths as a hoops guru are having a solid basketball system and being well prepared for a game. And after three seasons at the helm of the Tams, the fruits of his labor are starting to show.
What sets the Tams apart from the rest is that they operate in a starless system. Even when clearly the most talented in the roster are Tolomia and Belo, they play balanced offense withseveral other members sharing in the scoring pie. And to think that they top the league in offense with 74.8 points per game and in Total Field Goals with a 40.3% shooting clip. Belo and Tolomia have almost identical scoring norms of 12.9 and 12.5 respectively. Roger Pogoy, another hero in the semis, contributes 11.1 ppg, followed by Raymar Jose (7.8 ppg), Russel Escoto (6.7 ppg), Monbert Arong (6.2 ppg), and Achie Inigo (5.8 ppg). Against the Eagles on Saturday, Pogoy, Belo and Tolomia combined for 44 markers. The contributions from the second unit are quite remarkable too. Francis Tamsi, Ron Dennison and 6’8” rookie Prince Orizu are reliable defensive specialists.
Defensively, the Tams are No.2 in the league, allowing opponents just 68 ppg (next to NU’s 65.1 ppg). But they lead the league in rebounding (48 rpg), both defensively (474 rebs) and offensively (246 rebs), second chance points (12.3 ppg), and bench scoring (37.8 ppg).
There’s no doubt that this Morayta-based crew is ripe for a title-run. They play beautiful music together on offense, making good use of the Dribble Drive Offense for the most part. They are very patient and disciplined with timing, spacing and shot selection. Tolomia, FEU’s go-to-guy, rarely takes forced shots and often creates scoring opportunities for his teammates when penetrating to the basket.
On defense, the Tams work like dogs, constantly applying ball pressure and strictly following defensive rules. And they are well equipped with detailed scouting reports.
As of this writing, the Bulldogs and UST Growling Tigers have yet to start their semis encounter. FEU lost to UST twice and to NU once during the season. So whomever the Tams face in the finals will definitely give them a tough challenge.
But by the look of things, the Tamaraws are ready to end a nine-year title drought.
Meanwhile, Season MVP Kiefer Ravena played his final game in the UAAP on Saturday (along with fellow graduating Eagles Von Pessumal and Fonzo Gotladera) and finished with 25 points. The young man known as “the Phenom” played five amazing seasons for Ateneo and took the league by storm.
It seems also that coach Bo Perasol had his swan song with the Blue Eagles last Saturday if reports are true. There are also talks of a coaching change in La Salle after the Green Archers failed to enter the Final Four.
By the way, this is the second straight year that Ateneo and La Salle are not in the UAAP Finals after either or both made itthere from 1994 to 2013.