NU-FEU clash snaps pattern
As Far Eastern University and National University gear up for what could be an epic UAAP championship showdown, the series also highlights the incredible fact that it will only be the first time in 20 years that neither La Salle nor Ateneo is fighting for the crown.
The Eagles and the Archers, the country’s fiercest collegiate rivals, have combined for 11 of the league’s last 20 championships.
And since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994, either the Archers or the Eagles were slugging it out in the title round. Thrice— in 2001, 2002 and 2008—the two glamour squads arranged a blockbuster title series.
This time, however, both the Archers and the Eagles fell just a basket short of arranging another trip to the finals.
“Initially, our goal was just to make it to the Final Four, but at the end of the day, you really want to go all the way,” said Ateneo coach Bo Perasol after his No. 1 Blue Eagles blew a twice-to-beat semifinal advantage against the Bulldogs.
“It was a tough year,” said coach Juno Sauler after his Archers came so close to keeping their back-to-back title bid alive until the Tamaraws escaped behind a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
“We could have been better if we were all healthy,” added Sauler, noting the injuries and illness the Archers battled all season, including the mild dengue that hit star Jeron Teng and the fractured foot that sidelined starting point guard Thomas Torres.
In the end, though, both the Tamaraws and the Bulldogs showcased sheer grit to upset the two powerhouses that FEU coach Nash Racela tagged as the perennial “perceived finalists.”
Mac Belo buried the triple that lifted the Tamaraws past the Archers, 67-64, while Gelo Alolino sank two pressure-packed free throws with 9.3 seconds left as the Bulldogs shocked the Eagles, 65-63, in last Wednesday’s pair of heart-stopping, do-or-die Final Four duel
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