FEU banks on strong start to steamroll UST in UAAP opener
MANILA, Philippines—RJ Abarrientos used a brief stretch in the second quarter to showcase his potential and Far Eastern University pulled away early in a 76-51 rout of University of Santo Tomas on Saturday in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at Mall of Asia Arena.
Abarrientos drained three triples and had an assist in a brief run in the second quarter that gave the Tamaraws a 43-15 spread with 3:15 remaining in the half to effectively take the Tigers out of the game—and exposed UST’s patch-up program as a non-contender in the return of college basketball from a pandemic-imposed hiatus.
“I was really excited to play [in the UAAP] after two years,” said Abarrientos. “Our preparations that we did the last months, we bonded really well as a team and this was the result of our training.”
Abarrientos finished with 14 points in the first half, meaning the Tamaraws could have subsisted on a diet of the Gilas Pilipinas standout’s scoring alone and trail just by four there—FEU had a 47-18 lead at the break.
“I’m sure nobody was surprised [with Abarrientos’ performance],” said FEU coach Olsen Racela. “Everyone knows how RJ can play. The whole Philippines saw what he can do. He still needs to work on a lot of things and I’ve already talked to him about it.”
“We’re just happy to get our first win after two long years of waiting. But we still have a lot of things to do especially since every team had short preparations,” Racela added. “We’re not contented yet. We have a lot of things to do to prepare. We’ll get to work immediately after getting back to work.”
The Tigers, who battled Ateneo in the finals of the last UAAP season before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports in 2020, were actually in contention after a shaky start by both squads, nailing three three-pointers early and were tied with the Tamaraws at 9 in the first quarter.
Both teams showed the rust gathered after being away from competition for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. FEU turned the ball over twice before making the season’s first field goal. UST had three errors before putting points on the board.
But as FEU warmed up, the offense froze for Santo Tomas, which seemed to treat the first half as a glorified three-point shooting practice session—missing a lot of shots in the process. FEU stormed to a 22-9 lead entering the second period.
UST took 22 attempts from beyond the arc and made just four as the Tigers looked every inch a team that left its fight in Sorsogon, where they pawned off their future in an ill-advised training camp in 2020, held against the government’s health lockdown protocols.
Other schools pillaged the UST roster in the aftermath of that incident, leaving new coach Jinino Manansala to mastermind a difficult rebuild, and asking for patience as he pieces back together a nuked program.
“We’re a young team with a lot of rookies … but we will bounce back,” said Manansala. “We have to learn to execute and not hurry our shots on offense.”
The Tamaraws, however, were a team in a hurry.
FEU stepped on the gas and took a 28-9 lead in the second quarter before Nicael Cabanero broke the UST silence with a basket that made it 28-11. That was when Abarrientos took the fight out of UST with a brilliant display of shotmaking and quarterbacking.
Abarrientos finished with 18 points on 4-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc (40 percent), five rebounds and two assists, bringing with him a lot of valuable experience from his stint with the national team program.
“My experience and being a vocal leader with Gilas is one of the things I brought here,” said Abarrientos, whose performance underscored his being a rookie with the Tamaraws.
“This is my rookie year [but] my experience with Gilas [helped] because the level is higher in the international [game]. Everyone who played with Gilas really grew and the player I will be [in FEU] is the RJ I was with Gilas.”
As big as the win was, Abarrientos and Racela will now put that behind them and focus on Their next match against Ateneo.
“We’ll prepare harder,” Abarrientos said. “We’ll forget this now and move to the next game.”
“We’re not contented yet,” Racela added. “We have a lot of things to do to prepare. We’ll get to work immediately after getting back to the dorm.”