MANILA - Adamson University head coach Franz Pumaren made no apologies for his decision to sit two of his star players in their final elimination round game of the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament.
Regardless of the result of their game against Far Eastern University on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena, the Soaring Falcons were already assured of the second seed and a date with the University of the Philippines in the Final 4.
FEU, in contrast, was fighting for its playoff life. The Tamaraws needed a win in order to force a playoff against De La Salle University, and they got it in smashing fashion.
With Adamson playing without Jerrick Ahanmisi and Sean Manganti, the Tamaraws came away with a massive 82-56 triumph in a game that was never close.
"Buti na lang wala akong social media kun'di I'll be bashed," Pumaren quipped after the game, which saw them finish with a 10-4 record in the elimination round.
When informed that many were critical of how they lost the game, Pumaren said: "They have to understand. If your two top players, your two top gunners are not playing, it's gonna be difficult on our part."
The coach stressed that he decided to rest both Manganti and Ahanmisi because neither player was at 100 percent, and he would rather not risk their health so close to the Final 4.
"I don't think any coach for that matter will push the issue. I think any team for that matter also, any school, given that scenario, I don't think you will push your injured players. They're not 100 percent, why push them? It might aggravate the injury, and Jerrick is still feeling weak at this stage," said Pumaren.
Ahanmisi is running a fever that has already kept him out of practice on Friday and Saturday, while Manganti suffered an ankle sprain on Friday and did not train on Saturday as well.
Without them, Adamson's offense was toothless. They made only one three-pointer all game, out of 20 tries. Ahanmisi is currently shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 18.0 points per game; Manganti is norming 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.
"We're not only dependent on them for scoring, but we're also dependent on them creating situations, creating things, defending well. But things like that, it happens. It happens," said Pumaren.
The coach made it clear that Ahanmisi's illness and Manganti's injury were legitimate, contrary to whispers on social media that he sat them out just to make life harder for La Salle -- which had eliminated the Soaring Falcons in the semifinals for the past two seasons.
Had Adamson won on Sunday, La Salle would have automatically secured the last spot in the Final 4. Instead, the Green Archers now have to play a fired-up, confident FEU team in a knockout game.
"If they want to validate, if they're just playing sick, they can go to the hospital, they can check it. If they think Sean Manganti is just faking his injury, they can go to Focus Athletics, that he went there to get his treatment," Pumaren challenged.
Moreover, Pumaren pointedly said that his decision was "nothing personal."
"This is a reward for all our hard work. I don't think anybody can take it against us," he said. "Like I've been stressing, I for the longest time have been coaching. I don't rely on other teams. We write our own destiny, 'di ba?"
"We reverse the situation. Kung 'yung isang school naman, sila ang nandito at kami naman ang naghihintay. Natalo 'yung hoping namin na mananalo, so kami we have to go through a knockout. I won't take it against that particular team kung bakit sila natalo," he added.
"We have no control over that, 'di ba?" Pumaren stressed. "And you have to give credit to FEU. They really played well, they really shot the lights out in today's game. They really played well."
The team's focus now is to get both Ahanmisi and Manganti fully healthy by the Final 4. The Falcons play the UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"I think it worked to our advantage that we have one week to prepare for the Final 4. Hopefully by that time, they'll be okay," said Pumaren.
"We're doing an aggressive treatment with regards to the injury of Sean, same thing with Jerrick. We're doing what we feel can fast-track his recovery," he added.