The FEU Tamaraws are officially the most confusing team of UAAP Season 81.
Head coach Nash Racela’s boys were initially pegged as legitimate Final Four contenders entering the season. But losses against a rebuilding UST squad and an unremarkable (aside from Alvin Pasaol, of course) UE team put most of those offseason predictions in doubt.
So how do they respond? By giving the previously undefeated Adamson their first loss of the season and by beating title-favorites and defending champions Ateneo their second loss of the season in back-to-back games, no less.
Just three days after a wild game against Adamson that had to go to overtime before being decided, the Tamaraws this time had to claw their way back from an early 17-point deficit to upset Ateneo. They also had to achieve both feats without Arvin Tolentino, the former Blue Eagle who is currently leading the Tamaraws in scoring (11.8 points per game), due to a one-game suspension after a disqualifying foul last Sunday.
“Di ko rin alam kung paano namin ginawa ‘yun eh. If you noticed, kami ‘yung pinaka-grabe ‘yung schedule. May laro pa kami sa Linggo, so we played five games in two weeks. ‘Di ko alam kung kalian huli nangyari ‘yun sa isang UAAP team and to add to that, back-to-back ‘yung Adamson and Ateneo. And then we played Ateneo without our top scorer. So kung ako tatanungin, ‘di ko rin alam kung paano ginawa ‘yun eh.” remarked Racela.
“I just want to give credit to my players… very selfless sila eh, iniisip nila ‘yung kapakanan ng team eh. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we won these consecutive games, because of the selflessness nitong players.”
In yet another balanced effort, FEU had six different players score eight points or more, led by Hubert Cani’s 12 timely points. The Tamaraws also held Ateneo to season-lows in points (60), rebounds (38), three-point field goals made (five), three-point percentage (16%), bench points (22), and perimeter points (21).
Asked about how it feels to beat coach Tab Baldwin, the Blue Eagles’ widely-respected chief tactician, Racela chose not to boast and instead expressed respect while looking at the bigger picture.
“We all know how good a coach Tab is. He’ll make the necessary adjustments. Feeling ko baka nagpapa-dehado lang so that pagdating ng second round, ‘di na sila pinapansin ‘di ba,” Racela said in jest.
“But like I said, he’s a very good coach and he’ll make the necessary adjustments for them to come back stronger in the second round,” he added.
Despite the fact that their roller-coaster first round ended with them being tied with Ateneo for the second seed with identical 5-2 records, Racela is certainly hoping for a smoother ride in the second round as they aim to lock in on a Final Four slot.
“What we need is to be consistent,” he expressed. “We are playing UST next, and they won a big game today so kailangan paghandaan ‘yun. Every game is actually important. It can determine your fate in this season. Pwede ka mag-Final Four, or pwede ka ma-eliminate because of one loss. ‘Yun ang kailangan maintindihan ng aming team.”
If their last two games were indications of what the Tamaraws have in store for the second round, then the rest of the UAAP better watch out.