Tams make it
Far Eastern University beat La Salle’s Final Four hopes black and a little shade of blue.
Led by a coach who still proudly traces his roots to Ateneo and on the heroics of a former Katipunan cager, the Tamaraws sealed a semifinal duel with the No. 1 Blue Eagles by ousting the defending champions’ fierce rivals.
Arvin Tolentino nailed a three-pointer in the final three seconds to cap a breathless sequence in the stretch and give FEU a 71-70 victory over La Salle Wednesday in the knockout game for the last UAAP men’s basketball Final Four berth at Araneta Coliseum.
Tolentino, though, passed off credit to his teammates, particularly Kenneth Tuffin, who set up the endgame drama with a bold step-back jumper.
“My shot is just as big as Kenneth (Tuffin’s),” said Tolentino who stuck the three-point dagger with 3.1 left. “It’s as big as any basket we made in this game.”
“We’ve been working for this for nine, 10 months. We didn’t want this [year] to go to waste,” added Tuffin, who chimed in with 11 points to go with Tolentino’s 15.
And FEU coach Olsen Racela, meanwhile, tempered the celebration with a sobering reality.
“[This] is just one phase of our goal. We’re onto the next phase,” said Racela, an Ateneo legend.
A familiar foe awaits the Tams in the next phase. FEU pushed Ateneo to within a defensive stop of a huge Final Four upset until a clutch trey by Isaac Go rescued the Blue Eagles.
And if the Tamaraws had a hard time then, Racela expects an even more difficult time now.
“It’s going to be a tall order because we’re going up against a team that swept the second round. But we’ll see,” he added. “The staff will prepare tonight. It’s a tough match-up. We’ll see.”
The Tamaraws and the Eagles tangle on Nov. 24.
It was a matchup that hung in the balance in the stretch as La Salle looked poised to forge a semifinal duel that would have sent cash registers ringing.
The Green Archers, leaning on Aljun Melecio and Santi Santillan, pushed the Tamaraws to a 64-68 corner. Melecio later buried audacious, off-balanced scoop to keep that four-point buffer for La Salle.
But Tuffin’s jumper cut the deficit to 68-70 and a La Salle miss gave FEU roughly 20 seconds—without a timeout—to craft a final play on the fly, resulting in Tolentino’s three.
“It was all them,” Racela said. “Those shots didn’t come off timeouts.”
Still, Santillan had a chance to steal the game on a perfect play off a La Salle timeout, but flubbed a short stab underneath the basket.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.