MANILA, Philippines -- On the heels of a relatively disappointing first round, the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws are looking to focus on defense when they resume their campaign in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament.
The Tamaraws, touted as a contender ahead of the season, are on the outside looking into the Final 4 picture. They put together a 3-4 record after the first round, good for just fifth place in the league standings.
FEU has fallen victim to National University, and found themselves outplayed down the stretch in close games against De La Salle University and the University of the Philippines.
"[It's the] breaks of the game," said FEU coach Olsen Racela after they fell, 83-76, against the Fighting Maroons last Saturday. "Ang dami naming opportunities in the end."
Racela believes that their struggles in the first round are part of the team's growing pains. FEU is still integrating some new players, including rookie star RJ Abarrientos, big man Emmanuel Ojuola, and Ximone Sandagon. They have also dealt with the injury bug: point guard LJay Gonzales is not 100% due to an ankle issue, and top recruit Cholo Anonuevo has been sidelined by a foot injury.
"We have new players in the team, and they're still growing," said Racela. "We're really using these games for them to grow."
"We're hoping that you know, they will grow soon. So that in the second round, we can make a run again, of making it [to] the Final 4," he added.
Gonzales, who scores 13.17 points per game for FEU, said their run to the Final 4 should be built off their defensive tenacity. In terms of defensive rating, the Tamaraws are just sixth in the league after the first round (95.8) as they are allowing teams to shoot 37.29% from the field and giving up 71.43 points per game.
"'Yung depensa 'yung magpapanalo sa amin, hindi 'yung opensa," said Gonzales. "'Yun lang naman 'yung laging sinasabi. Execute namin 'yung play, gawin namin ng tama, kung ano 'yung mga sasabihin ng mga coaches, gagawin lang namin."
He noted that in their loss to UP, they failed to execute defensively in the fourth quarter which allowed the Fighting Maroons to pull away. UP shot nearly 56% from the field in the final period against the Tamaraws.
"Siguro nagkulang kami sa defense sa huli. Kinapos kami sa defense. Siguro, 'yun nga, 'yung last seconds, doon kami nadadali at doon kami bumibitaw," Gonzales said. "'Yun dapat 'yung i-improve namin. 'Di lang kami, lahat, buong team."
FEU's resolve will be immediately tested when they play Adamson University on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.