MANILA, Philippines - Far Eastern U, a proud team that has reached the finals the last two years, fights for dear life against La Salle, a squad looking to return to the playoffs after a poor finish last year, as they dispute the last Final Four berth in the UAAP Season 75 men's basketball tournament today at the MOA Arena.
The Tams and the Archers collide at 4 p.m. with their respective seasons on the line, and a very dangerous foe in four-peat champion and No. 1 Ateneo (12-2) waiting in the semis.
"We have to be ready for the arrows of La Salle," FEU coach Bert Flores said after his wards were forced to the playoff for No. 4 by a heart-breaking 81-84 overtime loss to National U in a replay of their second-round matchup last Sunday.
NU, FEU and La Salle all wound up with 9-5 cards after the double round elims, but the Bulldogs clinched the outright No. 3 spot with a superior quotient, leaving the Tams and the Archers to dispute the last semis seat.
From holding pole position at one time and staying inside the Top 3 most of the way, the Tams found themselves facing eliminations, no thanks to two successive setbacks ending the elims, including a 56-63 setback to the Archers last Sept. 16 and that three-point loss to the Bulldogs a week later.
"We're just staying positive. Maybe God has plans why we're playing for No. 4," said Flores.
The Archers are looking to make inroads in their development plans under coach Gee Abanilla and with renewed support of godfather Danding Cojuangco by making it back to the semis.
"We have one foot in and we have to take advantage of it," said Abanilla, who took over coaching chores after the resignation of Dindo Pumaren last year.
Abanilla said they are pretty satisfied with the progress of his crew, led by rookie Jeron Teng, Norbert Torres, Almond Vosotros and LA Revilla, who bucked the odds to put the Taft-based school to within a breath of the semis.
"Despite all the distraction – injuries, exams – we've managed to have a 9-5 recond after a strong second round (5-2). We have to continue building on this," he said.
The Archers and the Tams split their two meetings in the elims.
FEU scraped past DLSU, 48-47, in a low-scoring encounter last July 22, with Revilla (tendinitis) and Luigi Dela Paz (coaches’ decision) sitting it out for the Archers. DLSU got back at FEU, 63-56, last Sept. 16, pouncing on the absence of suspended Tams Arvie Bringas and Mark Belo. Both teams are expected to have a complete cast for the all-important game.
Winner of the FEU-DLSU rubbermatch will face the twice-to-beat Blue Eagles in the F4 on Saturday. The other semis pairing will pit No. 2 UST (10-4) versus NU (9-5) with the Tigers enjoying the win-once incentive.