Despite struggling in the early going, defending champion Far Eastern University (FEU) banked on experience down the stretch to turn back Ateneo de Manila University, 62-61, in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 79 men’s basketball tournament on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Tamaraws, relying on a strong performance of Monbert Arong and skipper Raymar Jose in crunch time, forced a do-or-die game against the Blue Eagles for the last finals berth.
Jose was simply unstoppable leading the charge scoring seven of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and collecting 23 rebounds plus two assists, while Arong piled up nine of his 13 points in the payoff quarter also for the Tamaraws.
“I don’t want to go to a vacation yet. I prayed to God to unleash my best and it was granted today,” Jose told reporters during the post-game interview. “Let’s just fight and I encouraged everyone not to play selfishly,” said Arong.
It was a low-scoring game in the first two quarters with the first period ending up to 10-all while the half closed out at 23-20 in favor of the Tamaraws.
The Blue Eagles delivered a strong offensive game in the second half building a 49-39 cushion in the middle of third period.
But the Tamaraws refused to give up by outscoring the Blue Eagles in the last canto, 27-19, to steal the important win.
“I remember during the quarter break that I told my players not to breakdown. There was a moment that we wanted to give up, but I told my players to hang on,” FEU coach Nash Racela told reporters during the post game interview. “My players finally played well when it mattered most.”
Racela said losing to Ateneo twice in the elimination round encouraged his players to work hard in this series. “That was the biggest challenge for all of us beating Ateneo [in the Final Four]after losing against them in the elimination round twice,” he said.
Racela, in fact, has a new job waiting for him. He will be calling the shots for Talk ‘N Text in the Philippine Basketball Association Season 42 Philippine Cup once his coaching duty in the UAAP is over.
But Racela is not going to leave the Tamaraws without a back-to-back title. “It was a motivation to me and I don’t want to be this game my last.”
Aaron Black and Thirdy Ravena led Ateneo with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The winner between FEU and Ateneo in the sudden-death game on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum will face De La Salle University in the best-of-three championship round.
La Salle survived Adamson University in the Final Four last Wednesday (69-64).