The Bleachers King: The unlikely UAAP leader

By Rick Olivares

Posted at Jul 23 2012 01:32 PM | Updated as of Jul 23 2012 09:32 PM

You can say that the way the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws play is far from the sleek and power basketball that we like. But after four playdates, the surprise leader is none other than these same Tamaraws who have two wins and zero losses in this UAAP Season 75.

Incredibly, the outcome of both wins, came down to the last shot.

Against opening day victim, University of Sto. Tomas (UST), the Tamaraws rallied for the victory when Growling Tiger Jeric Fortuna fumbled on a crossover that led to the game-winning layup by RR Garcia. Aljon Mariano was able to take a last shot from the baseline but it was short.

Last Sunday against a De La Salle University team that believes its time has come, the Tamaraws played ugly ball. And the Green Archers obliged by playing follow the leader.

Without their frontline that led them in years past (Aldrech Ramos, Pippo Noundou and company), the Tams have become a guard-oriented squad. Anthony Hargrove is a huge pick up for them but with Mark Bringas inconsistent and younger brother Arvie seemingly not in the peak of shape, and Russell Escoto not yet the player he was last year, FEU will have to be carried by their guards and forwards (throw in Roger Pogoy, who provides quality minutes for Bert Flores).

I wondered how they would keep up with the high-powered game of La Salle that suddenly has a lot of weapons in their arsenal. But they stayed close and never allowed the Green Archers to break the game wide open.

There is a method to FEU’s madness as their halfcourt set crumbled in the face of La Salle’s strong inside play (Yutien Andrada and Norbert Torres) and Hargrove not fully comprehending playing smart on defense. Without Hargrove to intimidate, the Green Archers attacked with their dribble drive offense, finding Andrada for some gimmes. And they ruled the boards 49-40.

Here’s where FEU got back in the game. They let their players operate one-on-one! Just like they did against UST. Both squads were pretty even in the stats save for turnovers where FEU – surprise, surprise – committed fewer TOs, 9-15.

Without the injured LA Revilla, Almond Vosotros stepped into the breach and along with Mark Tallo played well. But FEU’s three-headed guard monster of RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo and Mike Tolomia were just too difficult to handle. You can make a case for Romeo getting tunnel vision when he receives that ball but this is the way this team has played ball for years now. It works for them, I guess. And to keep pace, La Salle went small as well. I thought that is where they negated the advantage of Norbert Torres.

And speaking of bigs, the returning Arvie Bringas had a chance to put one over his old team but his missed free throws gave La Salle a window to pull this one out. And Mark Tallo nearly did. That bounce on the rim must have caused many hearts to flutter. But rim out it did and FEU escaped with a 48-46 win -- the lowest scoring game we’ve had for years.

Lesson there: Arvie stop showboating, talking trash, and just play the game. You were nearly the goat with your missed free throws and late game injury.

But more importantly, it dealt La Salle a loss that put them alongside second-running Ateneo de Manila University with identical 2-1 slates while FEU, the surprise leader is undefeated in two.

Say no more but this early, coupled with National University’s loss to Ateneo, this season promises one fiery and exciting wind-up.