It took the FEU Tamaraws ten years but they are finally the kings of UAAP men’s basketball once again.
Despite being one of the favorites this year, the FEU Tamaraws’ seemed to have spent the season flying under the radar, as the ADMU Blue Eagles, the DLSU Green Archers or the NU Bulldogs hogged the limelight.
Their ascension to the top was so nondescript that none of their players made it to the Mythical Five, with ADMU, NU, DLSU represented by one payer and losing finalist UST represented by two.
And yet, after three hard-fought games, they are the ones wearing the UAAP’s basketball crown. Here are three factors that helped make it happen.
Coach Nash Racela put together a simple but masterful game plan to stop the UST Tigers. And it came down to one thing: control the game tempo.
The Tams sped it up on offense, which let them turn predatory, running at basically every opportunity. They also bullied their way into the paint where, in theory, the Tigers had the advantage and challenged the UST big men to constantly defend the paint. On the other end, they forced UST into playing longer possessions, which threw the timing off the Tiger offensive machine.
The Tamaraws had a clear defensive strategy that they successfully stuck to: Pack the paint and force the Tigers against it. While Tamaraw defenders shadowed Kevin Ferrer at the threepoint line, they sagged off Ed Daquioag, thereby forcing both into a packed paint where the Tamaraws formed a defensive phalanx of sorts.
The Tam played defense at such a high level that they were able to force the Tigers into hurried possessions, into almost-out-of-time possessions and into broken possessions for most of the game. In fact, the game winning play was when they forced Ed Daquioag into a jumpball situation, then forced Abdul Karim into a turnover with barely a minute left. The Tigers had to foul in the next possession and the Tams went ahead by five with about 30 seconds left, after making their freethrows.
The Tams led by about 10 with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter. The Tigers then went on a tear to go up by 6 at the hallway mark of the fourth. The Tams could have folded then. They could have buckled under the weight of the FEU crowd’s expectations, the Tigers’ fiery run, or the memory of last year’s collapse against NU.
Instead, they transformed into champions, clawing their way back into the lead with tenacious defense and bold offense. UST on the other hand, suffered a mini-meltdown, with Daquioag, Abdul, and Ferrer all failing to rise to the occasion.
It was a game for the ages, easily one of the exciting UAAP Finals games in history. And while FEU emerged victorious, in the end, it was the UAAP basketball-loving fans that won.
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