MANILA, Philippines – The Far Eastern University Tamaraws redeemed their two-point first round loss by crushing the UST Growling Tigers, 66-55, in the men's basketball tournament of UAAP Season 77 on Saturday, August 23 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Using a crippling first half showing, the Tamaraws quickly pummeled the hapless Tigers and set the tone for the rest of the contest, with the final score nowhere an indication of the dominance displayed by FEU.
"Before we went out of the dugout, we said if there's any good that will come from a win today it's number one: getting back at UST because they beat us in the first round," FEU head coach Nash Racela noted one of the team's goals for this second round clash.
"Secondly, maybe, while it's not yet guaranteed, a slot in the Final Four."
He added, "I think it was our defense. The focus of the players was there today."
That defense was on full display right from tip-off as FEU locked down the Tigers and raced to a 24-7 tally to end the first canto.
Knowing UST's notorious penchant for rallying past double-digit deficits, the Tamaraws pressed on the gas pedal some more to build their biggest advantage at 42-19 in the second period before applying one final spurt in the third.
By the fourth, FEU had done enough to allow themselves to relax and go on cruise control as they scored just 7 points in that final frame while weathering UST's weak attempt at a comeback.
With the teamwork and trust Racela continues to foster within his team, FEU did not need Mike Tolomia to lead their offense with many others stepping up to the plate - and fittingly so because Tolomia, according to Racela, was feeling under the weather.
He finished with 4 points in under 17 minutes on the court.
Rising to the occasion was Roger Pogoy with his career-high 19 points to go with 5 rebounds - a comeback performance as well after he had zero points on the board against UST in the first round.
Mac Belo added 12 markers and 8 boards while Achie Iñigo held his own with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Tigers played minus starting forward Kevin Ferrer who suffered a fractured left wrist and could only support his team from the bench in street clothes and a sling on his shoulder.
Having no Ferrer to turn to for game-changing three-pointers and hustle plays like in their first meeting, UST had no one to bail them out from the deep hole FEU buried them in, which was fortunate for the Tamaraws.
"Nung first round siya yung tumalo sa amin, yung dalawang three-pointers niya," Racela recalled.
"Malaking bagay na wala siya. But we always emphasize on not focusing sa mga players na meron ang ibang team, ang importante is we focus on ourselves, on our team and how we can play well."
(In the first round he beat us with his two three-pointers. It was huge for him not to play. But we always emphasize on not focusing on the other team's players. What's important is we focus on ourselves, on our team and how we can play well.)
For UST, which employed just a 10-man rotation, Karim Abdul came up with 24 points and 16 rebounds, while Louie Vigil chipped in 17 points for their squad who dropped to 4-5.
Aljon Mariano played for just over 15 minutes and had no points as he had only 5 attempts from the field.
UST starters carried the scoring load as the Tigers' bench accounted for only two of the team's total points - a jumper from Regie Basibas.
FEU, who rose to 7-2 tied for first place with Ateneo and La Salle, will next face the defending champions on Wednesday, August 27.
Racela will hope to overturn a rampaging Archers squad riding on a 7-game win streak after starting the season at 0-2.
"It's very important that we stay close to the perceived Finalists Ateneo and La Salle," Racela said.
"People are trying to condition that it's going to be Ateneo and La Salle (in the Finals) but we'll just try to be with them, subukan namin makasingit. (We'll try to get in between them.)
The La Salle game will be Racela's last for FEU in the next couple of weeks as he flies to Spain on Wednesday night for his duties with the national team. He will be missing FEU's two games against Adamson and UP but will be back by September 6 in time for their match against the NU Bulldogs.
"I'm confident the players will be in good hands with the coaching staff. I think they're mentally prepared for the games that I will miss. And I'm trusting all of them." – Rappler.com