FEU celebrates after their win over La Salle. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in the Final Four era, neither the Ateneo Blue Eagles nor the De La Salle Green Archers will be playing in the UAAP Finals, and this may just be the "best thing to ever happen" to the league.
"I realized last year na Ateneo and La Salle were always in the Finals since 1993," Far Eastern University (FEU) head coach Nash Racela told reporters after the Tamaraws' stunning 67-64 win over the Green Archers.
"I think this is the best thing to ever happen to the UAAP, having FEU and NU in the Finals," he stressed.
Racela helped his team make history by beating La Salle, 67-64, in the semi-finals Wednesday to make it to the Finals for the first time since Season 74.
They joined the National University (NU) Bulldogs, who earlier outlasted the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles to become only the second fourth-seed to make it to the Finals. It is their first appearance in the championships since 1970.
Racela pointed out that this year's Final Four games showed that NU and FEU can also pack arenas, as students from both schools filled the Araneta Coliseum all the way to the general admission section on Wednesday.
"NU can bring the crowd. FEU can bring the crowd. Hindi lang naman Ateneo at La Salle ang makakapagdala niyan eh. So I think this is the best thing that ever happened to the UAAP," he said.
The last time that neither Ateneo nor La Salle were in the Finals was in 1993, when University of Santo Tomas swept the elimination round and was automatically declared champions. The previous year, FEU won the championship over Adamson behind the efforts of star point guard Johnny Abarrientos.
FEU center Anthony Hargrove said he was thrilled to have already made history just by advancing to the Finals along with NU.
"I feel like, don't you get tired of seeing the same people?" Hargrove said, in reference to La Salle and Ateneo's Finals appearances. "I'm a Laker fan, and I'd be tired of seeing the Lakers always win the championship."
"Hey, let somebody else get a chance. Let somebody else prove themselves. For us and NU, I'm happy for NU and I'm happy for us, because we did it together," he added.
Appreciation for fans
Both Racela and NU head coach Eric Altamirano also took the time to thank their supporters after their wins, with both coaches expressing surprise that their schools were able to fill the venue.
"I think today was the biggest crowd that we had witnessed sa FEU," Racela said. "Kalahati ng Araneta. I was really surprised na kaya rin pala namin 'yun."
"The crowd today was overwhelming," said Altamirano. "Nakakatayo talaga ng balahibo, just seeing this crowd."
"Ang ganda pa, kasi nasa harap ko 'yung crowd, so kitang-kita talaga namin kung gaano kadami 'yung nanood na NU community," he added. "Nakaka-touch talaga na nakita mo 'yung outpouring ng support ng community."
Over 15,000 people attended the Final Four games at the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday.