MANILA, Philippines - Press or no press, the FEU Tamaraws' spell over the UE Red Warriors is still effective.
The Tamaraws extended their win streak over the Warriors to 9 games with a 73-63 triumph on Wednesday, July 30 as they broke down UE's disruptive pressure defense and handed the hosts their second straight tough loss in the men's basketball tournament of the UAAP Season 77 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
According to the UAAP's Chief Statistician Pong Ducanes, the Warriors have not won over FEU dating back to Season 72. Their last win was in the Final Four of that season on September 24, 2009.
Meanwhile, since center Charles Mammie and primary guard Roi Sumang played together last season, they have beaten every UAAP team except FEU, also per Ducanes.
The Tamaraws played a seesaw game for the first 3 quarters of this game, treading carefully against the press of UE head coach Derrick Pumaren.
But with their able guards, FEU managed to weather the stingy defense that gave defending champions La Salle a difficult time last Sunday.
Achie Iñigo and Mike Tolomia provided stability on the backcourt, carrying the ball from one end to the other, patiently orchestrating plays and ensuring the guys on the floor had proper spacing.
Tolomia wound up with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, while Iñigo had 7 markers, 5 boards and 4 dimes. (RELATED: RR Garcia says FEU's Mike Tolomia ready to turn pro)
FEU head coach Nash Racela admitted they saw the press as an opportunity rather than a problem.
"We talked about the press of UE," he said. "We acknowledged that and we actually want that so we can attack the basket."
And attack they did.
FEU posted 40 inside points, led by Mark Belo's 21 markers and Anthony Hargrove's 14 points. The American bigman Hargrove also added 12 rebounds to his name.
The Tamaraws shot a total of 48% as well and had 23 perimeter points.
More than anything, Racela emphasized to his players that composure was key to weathering UE's press.
"Ang target lang namin was not to beat La Salle. They had 36 turnovers, we had 31," he joked before turning serious.
"We just told them, so long as you don't lose your composure. Sabi namin, kahit ano nangyayari sa loob, kahit nagkakamali, ang importante is we still make the right decisions in the endgame."
(Our target was not to beat La Salle. They had 36 turnovers, we had 31. We just told them, so long as you don't lose your composure. We told them that whatever happens inside, even if we make mistakes, the important thing is we still make the right decisions in the endgame.)
FEU started strong and took an 8-2 lead out of the gates. But the Warriors' pressure defense settled right in as they mounted a huge 20-1 run for the rest of the opening canto before Tolomia hit a much-needed triple at the buzzer for a 22-12 spread favoring UE.
Tolomia buoyed the Tamaraws as he accounted for 10 of his team's first 12 points. He scored 8 markers off a couple of treys and made an assist.
Come the second frame it was Belo's turn to step up. He dropped 8 points in that period as FEU went on a 13-5 run to cut UE's lead down to size, 27-25, before eventually making it just a one-point 32-31 game by halftime.
Despite the early struggles, Racela said they made no adjustments in the second half.
"No adjustments. We just did the things that we were doing in practice. Of course we had some preparations."
The Tamaraws and Warriors went at it in the third before the former eventually began creating some separation, entering the fourth with a 52-49 edge.
The Morayta-based cagers eventually notched a 69-59 lead with 2:56 left, courtesy of a Carl Cruz putback.
The Warriors were unable to come close as they crumbled down the stretch and missed even easy lay-ups.
Sumang was limited to just 7 points on a paltry 8% shooting (1-of-13) from the field.
Paul Varilla and Bong Galanza led all Warriors with their 12 and 11 markers, respectively.
With the win, FEU climbed to a 3-1 slate, while UE now sit at 2-2.
Despite the wins, Racela admits his team is still not at par with the standards they set for the first round.
"We like that we are getting wins, we don't like the way we play. But we understand it's a process and hopefully we get better as the season rolls along."
FEU (73): Belo 21, Hargrove 14, Tolomia 13, Cruz 7, Iñigo 7, Pogoy 5, Jose 4, Dennison 2, Escoto 0, Denila 0.
UE (63): Varilla 12, Galanza 11, Javier 8, Arafat 8, Sumang 7, Mammie 6, Alberto 5, Jumao-as 4, De Leon 2, Olayon 0.
Quarter scores: 12-22, 31-32, 52-49, 73-63.