Continued from Part 1
(2) Far Eastern University Tamaraws vs (3) De La Salle University Green Archers
Season Results: FEU 82 – DLSU 77 (First Round), FEU 74 – DLSU 70 (Second Round), FEU 65 – DLSU 60 (Battle for Second Seed)
The virtual best-of-three for the right to play in the Finals will be contested by two green teams of the UAAP. The defending champions were expected to easily make a return trip to the Finals, after almost fielding the same core from their championship team. However, they suffered injuries to key players, and struggled a bit in the season. The FEU Tamaraws, meanwhile, quickly moved on from the RR Garcia-Terrence Romeo era, with Mike Tolomia and the surprising rise of Mac Belo leading them to the Final Four picture. They even had a chance to grab the top seed if they won the last game of the season against Ateneo.
While people are hoping for an Ateneo-La Salle finals showdown, the teams they are facing could spoil the party by winning their respective matchups. La Salle hasn’t beaten FEU this season in their three meetings, and now they need to beat them twice in a row if they want a fighting chance at defending their crown. La Salle proved once before that “two is greater than three” on their way to the Season 70 Basketball Championship. They’ll need history to repeat itself right about now.
The frontcourt of the Tamaraws has been tested, and will be further tested as they go up against the Archers’ formidable frontcourt. They’ve proven that they can handle the DLSU big men though, as gang rebounding and excellent team defense has helped them overcome their size disadvantage. Anthony Hargrove may only stand at 6’5″ but he uses his athleticism and strength to his advantage. Carl Cruz is active on the boards and has had the confidence to throw up long range shots, which could be huge for the Tams.
The Archers could try to preserve Jeron Teng’s energy by letting him defend Cruz lightly, but if Cruz can prove to be a scoring threat, then Teng might just need to put in an extra effort on defense. The improved play of Achie Inigo has given Mike Tolomia the chance to play off the ball, something that helps the explosive guard a chance to do what he does best; put the ball in the basket. Mac Belo will be a marked man for the Tams, but he can play decoy to get his teammates going as well.
The lack of point guard play had the Archers struggling in the middle of the season, with Thomas Torres going down with an injury. Kib Montalbo has been tasked with the responsibility of handling the court general duties, as Almond Vosotros works best doing catch-and-shoot plays instead of setting up his teammates. The tall froncourt of Arnold Van Opstal and Jason Perkins has not found much success against the suffocating FEU defense, but they’ll need to play big if they want to upset the higher-seeded Tams. Jeron Teng, who recently recovered from a dengue infection, struggled in their playoff match against FEU. He hopes to bounce back in time to help his team try to win the next two games against FEU.
Advantage: FEU. They’ve been able to neutralize the twin towers of DLSU, and Mike Tolomia becomes unstoppable when he’s on.
Team veteran RR Pogoy leads the FEU bench that has shown depth throughout the season that was not perceived in the preseason. His scrappy play and energy has helped FEU go this far, and has proved crucial even in during their playoff with La Salle. Raymar Jose has also given the Tams valuable quality minutes off the bench. Francis Tamsi and Ron Dennison have become able perimeter stoppers for the Tams as well. Outside of Pogoy, their bench doesn’t consist of proven veteran players, but they do get the job done.
As mentioned above, the Archers are parading a lineup that has not changed much from their championship team. Norbert Torres leads the bench mob of DLSU to give them the advantage in ceiling at all times. Julian Sargeant has found himself playing important minutes for the Archers lately, and he’s been of great help to the team, though the box scores may not always show it. Thomas Torres played a couple of minutes in the playoff game, but if he is indeed healthy, the Archers will have that much depth in the position. Prince Rivero has shown that he can hold his own against the competition, but so far, he’s only seen the floor when the other bigs get into early foul trouble. With both teams playing a shorter rotation especially in the postseason, the limited minutes that their bench plays will be huge for both teams.
Advantage: DLSU. They’ve been here before, and they’re not afraid to get back to where they were last year. They have the talent, but it’s all up to Coach Juno Sauler to spread it out when needed.
Prediction: FEU in 2. The Archers won’t go down without a fight, and it may not be impossible for them to overcome this FEU squad. However, with three games under their belt against DLSU this season, the Tams seem to know what they’re doing against the Archers.