MANILA, Philippines -- Far Eastern University (FEU) will continue to rely on what has worked for them so far in Season 92 -- their stingy defense -- when the Tamaraws take on University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the first phase of the stepladder on Wednesday.
FEU's defense has carried them to the semifinals for the seventh season in a row. They have limited teams to just 33.04% shooting in the elimination round, with teams scoring just 65.93 points against the Tams.
They have been especially tough in the second round, when they shackled teams like UST, University of the Philippines, and De La Salle University en route to important wins.
Head coach Olsen Racela knows the Tamaraws must be on point defensively on Wednesday, when they battle the explosive Tigers for the right to advance to the next phase of the stepladder semifinals.
"UST is very scary, with the players that they have, 'di ba? At any given moment, eh pwedeng pumutok kahit sino," said Racela.
The Growling Tigers are the highest scoring team in the league, putting up 79.21 points per game while shooting 37.28% from the field. They are particularly explosive from beyond the arc, making over 30% of their three-pointers on over 35 attempts per game.
When they played in the first round, UST outgunned FEU, 84-72, before the Tamaraws imposed their will in the second round encounter for a 72-58 triumph. Racela stressed that they have to put up a similarly stout defensive effort on Wednesday to contain the Tigers once again.
"We really have to really rely on our defense," he said. "That's what we've been doing the past 14 games. So hindi kami magbabago doon. Talagang defense should be our focus."
The coach can only hope that their offense will also click. Racela is the first to admit that there have been instances in the elimination round that the Tams experienced scoring droughts, and their brutal 61-39 loss to National University in the first round comes to mind.
"There were times during the season na nagtago 'yung offense namin, di ba?" he said. "But our strength is our defense. We'll work with our strengths."
A victory by FEU will put them in the next phase of the stepladder, where they will take on the twice-to-beat University of the Philippines.
"We all know it's win or go home," said Racela. "This is just the first phase of our goal -- making it to the Final 4."
"Right now, we have momentum because of the way we're playing and the wins we had to finish the eliminations. But I told them it doesn't mean anything. Pagdating ng Final 4, it's a different level," he added.
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