Wide-open UAAP Final 4 raceBy Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
THERE’S a clear power shift in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament this season.
With five-time champion Ateneo in transition and struggling for consistency, the race for slots in the Final Four is a wide-open one. For the last decade or so, Ateneo seemed to have a reserved seat in the final dance but this year it has to play above .500 to sneak into the playoffs.
Although they really had potentially competitive lineups to begin with, the rest of the field is capitalizing on the shift. Far Eastern U, University of Santo Tomas, Adamson, National U and University of the East are the most likely protagonists for the Final Four.
Relying on a few big scorers and a strong center, these teams are going to battle for position unless Ateneo’s fortunes change in the second round and La Salle continues to reap more from its improved bigs like Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres and their outside gunners.
La Salle coach Juno Sauler is also dealing with the team’s inability to close out games where they had chances to extract wins.
FEU’s new perspective of sharing the ball among its three prolific guards—RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo and Mike Tolomia—has produced sterling results. New coach Nash Racela’s approach has worked to calm down the FEU attack in the college game where the pace is fast and reckless and turnovers are expected.
Up to Saturday, the Tamaraws have been undefeated in five matches. They won one game against La Salle that looked like a lost cause in the last three minutes. The Green Archers were ahead by 13 in the homestretch but couldn’t seal the win. FEU won in overtime, 83-79.
Coach Boysie Zamar’s Red Warriors arguably have the edge in the guts department with a unit that lives up to its team name. Zamar’s repeated sermons asking his players to throw their hearts on the hardwood have borne fruit.
On Saturday, they carved out a nail-biting 85-83 win against La Salle. Last Wednesday, their confidence allowed them to keep their heads in the final canto after Ateneo erased their third quarter 15-point lead.
Warrior Roi Sumang is clearly a marked man in every game and yet a headache to defend because he can burn you from afar or explode for layups. He has the same leadership and daredevil qualities as former King Warrior Paul Lee.
Sumang’s game-clinching long three-point bomb against NU in the early part of the tournament is still the shot of the season. It was not a high-percentage attempt but the brave ones do not tread in safe, familiar territory.
Leo Austria’s Falcons have to trust each other better on the half-court set and play stronger defense when opponents erect big leads. Against Ateneo, they could not climb back into the game as they opted to trade long bombs with the Blue Eagles.
Falcons Jericho Cruz and Roider Cabrrera are reliable scorers but do need help when they are marked defensively.
UST has a spirited, if not entertaining, energy that opens up opponents’ tight defense traps.
NU, meanwhile, has to lighten up a bit and try other offensive options when Bobby Ray Parks can’t get his game going or gets tied up.
With at least two more games for each team left in the first of two rounds, potential playoff teams have to shore up because more hands are needed to pull their ships into the Final Four.
More from this Column: