MANILA, Philippines – University of the East's (UE) Final 4 drought was extended to one more year on Sunday, after the Red Warriors were formally eliminated from semifinal contention by defending champion Ateneo de Manila University.
The Blue Eagles were merciless, clobbering the Red Warriors 84-50 to stay unbeaten in UAAP Season 82 and oust UE from the Final 4 race.
This marks the 10th year in a row that UE will not figure in the semifinals. Their last Final 4 appearance was in Season 72, when a team bannered by Paul Lee reached the finals and lost to Ateneo in three games.
The coach of that UE team, Lawrence Chongson, is once again calling the shots for the Red Warriors as an active consultant. However, he could not duplicate his feat as UE has won just three times in 12 games.
"Sabi mo nga, isang dekadang hindi nag-Final 4. 'Yun din ang gusto naming i-solve. We wanted to get to the Final 4 now," said Chongson after their loss.
UE recruited "one-and-dones" to help their cause, including Rey Suerte, a former CESAFI Most Valuable Player from the University of the Visayas. They also got the services of Senegales big man Alex Diakhite, and former Jose Rizal University top scorer Jed Mendoza.
Yet the Red Warriors still struggled to keep in step with the top teams in the league, notably Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas. Prior to their 34-point defeat to the Blue Eagles, they were also routed by the Growling Tigers, 101-73.
"Without a doubt naman we are not on their level," Chongson admitted.
"Masakit siguro 'yung dalawang UP losses namin, at saka 'yung isang La Salle," he added, referring to their close defeats to University of the Philippines, and another tough setback to De La Salle University in the second round.
"We would be 6-6 right now and be in the thick of things, if we would have pulled through those three close games," he said.
Chongson is resigned to their fate this season, however.
"It is what it is. We tried, in good faith," he said. "Akala ko madu-duplicate ko 'yung feat ko a decade ago. Huling Final 4 ng UE, ako rin eh. But I guess, may ibang plano ang tadhana, it wasn't to be."
"Di ba, it wasn't meant to be. Ako naman, it's all done in good faith," he stressed.
Asked what needs to be done in order to end UE's long Final 4 drought, Chongson answered in his trademark blunt manner.
"Wala namang long term ang UE eh. They change coaches just like they change clothes," he said. "They got mga Hall-of-Fame coach, mga Pumaren, mga Boycie Zamar, they got the young guys, mga Joe Silva."
"One thing you gotta give to them, they don't stop trying," he added.
"But perhaps sa akin lang, ano, siguro ano rin, try nila instead of change coach, change management din," he suggested.
Chongson did not name names, and believed that the people in charge are "acting in good faith, hopefully."
However, he also stressed that something needs to be done if the Red Warriors hope to leap back into contention, as they were a decade ago.
"It's just sometimes, if you put the steering wheel sa wrong kind of a driver, chances are they'll drive you off the cliff," he said.
The question is what role Chongson will have in UE's future, and the active consultant withheld comment.
"Will I be around? Hard to say. Hard to say. Not for me to say, for now. Not for me to say," he said.
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