Keys to victory: Ateneo-FEU Final Four match-up
If indeed familiarity breeds contempt then this Final Four series between Ateneo and Far Eastern University must harbor a slowly increasing level of hatred.
For the fourth straight year, the Blue Eagles and the Tamaraws will face each other in the UAAP basketball men’s basketball Final Four and this showdown is just the tip of the iceberg for these two successful programs.
Ateneo holds a slight 2-1 advantage over the Tamaraws in the last their last three semifinals meetings with the Blue Eagles and FEU each winning a title in those instances—Ateneo beat La Salle in Season 80 and FEU defeated University of Santo Tomas in Season 78.
On another note, the two schools are at the top of Final Four appearances with FEU having been to the most semifinals in the Final Four era with 20 while Ateneo is in second with 19.
Ateneo and FEU secured its Final Four spots in rather polarizing ways.
The defending champions Blue Eagles arrived to the Final Four taking an easier route as the top seed with a 12-2 record while having to deal with minimal adversity.
Ateneo did lose its season opener against Adamson University, 74-70, but racked up five straight wins to go back to winning form until it lost to the Tamaraws, 63-60.
The Blue Eagles’ loss to FEU was their last of the season and they have since been on a seven-game romp.
FEU, meanwhile, showed promise in the first round before losing four straight in the second half of the season to fall to as low as sixth place.
The Tamaraws eventually chalked up three straight wins to force a fourth-place playoff with De La Salle that they won, 71-70, after a clutch game-winner courtesy of former Blue Eagle Arvin Tolentino.
Ateneo certainly has a more well-rested roster since its last game was on Nov. 14 while the Tamaraws dueled it out with the Green Archers just this Wednesday.
Angelo Kouame was seen as just an ordinary energy big during the first round of the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball tournament with the responsibility of getting some shots up, pulling down rebounds, and blocking away field goal attempts.
Then, things took a massive rise when Kouame obliterated FEU in Ateneo’s 82-62 win in the second round when he put up 33 points and pulled down 27 rebounds and that game established him as the league’s newest big man problem.
Kouame’s breakout game, however, came during the absence of FEU center Prince Orizu, who was sidelined with an injury.
Still, Kouame had the upper hand in his first meeting with Orizu in Ateneo’s 63-60 first round loss.
The rookie Kouame had 16 points, on 7-of-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, 10 of which came under the offensive glass, and four blocks against Orizu’s eight points and eight boards.
Both FEU and Ateneo have stars that already carry a certain recall with players like Thirdy Ravena, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, Arvin Tolentino, and Richard Escoto but there are also the ones that don’t carry the same amount of notoriety.
Enter Kenneth Tuffin and William Navarro.
Both names don’t immediately pop in anyone’s if someone yells at him “quick name anyone from Ateneo or FEU” but Navarro and Tuffin have emerged as quality players for their teams in the latter games of the season.
Navarro was entrusted in the limelight when he had to temporary fill in for Kouame, Isaac Go and Raffy Verano in Ateneo’s 71-62 win over De La Salle after the aforementioned big men got into foul trouble.
And in the last two games of the Blue Eagles’ in the eliminations Navarro averaged 12 points and six rebounds.
Tuffin, on his part, emerged as one FEU’s more reliable scoring wings and he was vital in the Tamaraws’ last games of the season including the playoff against the Green Archers.
FEU’s sweet-shooting wing averaged 11 points, 2.3 three-point field goals, and 3.3 rebounds per game.