FEU's Mac Belo And UST's Ed Daquioag. File/Composite.
FEU’s 66-61 win over Ateneo, and UST’s 81-79 come-from-behind-win over La Salle should firmly establish the two victorious squads as strong title contenders this season.
Both FEU and UST tote 7-1 cards and are heading for a collision course. However, before that let’s examine both teams.
It was said that for all the talent to pass through the Morayta-based squad in the past decade, the one thing they lack to win it all was the mental fortitude. They crumbled at the worst possible time. In last year’s UAAP Finals, they were in the driver’s seat after having taken Game One from National University. However, they fell in the next two matches to cap close to a decade of futility.
If their past three wins are any measure, they can be characterized as ugly wins but ones that should serve them well in future stead. They squeaked past Adamson, 64-60, and NU, 61-59, before taking on a five-point win versus perpetual tormentors, Ateneo.
Even without their top scorers playing their usual games, FEU found a way to win.
Their wins have been a study in contrasts — blow outs over Ateneo, La Salle and UP. A come from behind win against UE. And the aforementioned close games.
“We’ve struggled for a bit but found ways to win,” admitted Tamaraws coach Nash Racela. “I hope this will help us in our chase for a Final Four slot. Mahirap kasi pag puro blowout. The close games help them mature.”
The other aspect of the game that FEU improved on is their offense. In Season 77, their were the fourth-best scoring team. This Season 78, the Tamaraws are tops in offense with 76.3 points per game after eight matches.
Last campaign, Coach Nash Racela could count on double-digit point production from two players — Mac Belo and Mike Tolomia. This year, Roger Pogoy has taken his game to a higher level and is third in scoring and is heavily contributing on the defensive end.
“But, I am not satisfied,” cautioned Racela. “We need to work on our defense.”
Last year, the Tams were fifth best in the league and when they ran into the more defensive-minded NU Bulldogs in the finals, they had all sorts of problems. This year, the Tamaraws are third behind NU and UST respectively.
UST Growling Tigers
If for FEU the concern was mental fortitude, for UST, it was improving on both defense and offense. In Season 77, UST was the third best defensive team. Scoring however, proved to be a problem as they were seventh (62.4 ppg).
Basketball analysts point to the ascension of Ed Daquioag and Kevin Ferrer as UST’s main men plus the addition of key transferees like Kyle Suarez and Mario Bonleon (Louie Vigil was also a transferee) and rooks like Marvin Lee as huge reasons for UST’s 7-1 standing.
They conveniently forget one person -- the addition of assistant coach Bernie Mercado. Mercado played for two champion San Sebastian Stags teams and was an assistant to Raymond Valenzona on three champion Staglets teams and was also on at Agustin’s Stags champs a few years ago. Mercado’s specialty is defense.
If the Growling Tigers were third last year, this year after eight matches, they have climbed to second. They surrender the fewest steals, (3.3), second chance points (8.0), and bench points (24.5). They are second in steals to UE with 5.4 a match.
In Season 77, they were tops only in second chance points and blocks allowed.
Against Adamson, 42-39
Against FEU, 38-43
Against UP, 46-44
Against NU, 28-22
Against Ateneo, 42-28
Against La Salle, 46-28
Against UE, 39-43
Against La Salle, 44-34.
UST scores 40.6 points in the second half while allowing only 35.1 points by the opposition.
Against Adamson, 19-19
Against FEU, 18-13
Against UP, 25-19
Against NU, 11-14
Against Ateneo, 26-6
Against La Salle, 17-15
Against UE, 23-20
Against La Salle, 22-13
UST scores 20.1 points in the fourth quarter while holding opponents to 14.8 points.
“Everybody talks about our offense which is forgivable,” noted UST’s second year tactician Bong dela Cruz. “When you have a Kevin Ferrer and Ed Daquioag 'yun muna nakikita ng tao. But I will say na 'yung defense namin is our biggest improvement. But I am not yet satisfied. We have a long way to go. Kailangan mag-improve pa."
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