The stage is set for the UAAP men’s basketball Finals, as the FEU Tamaraws survived a furious charge led by graduating guard Jerick Canada, and held on to win 78-74 over the Adamson Falcons. By doing so, the Tamaraws overcame the Falcons’ twice-to-beat advantage and won the right to face defending 3-time champion Ateneo in the Finals.
From the start of the game, it was clear that each team came in with a strong intent to make it to the Finals. At one point, tempers flared as Tamaraw forward Carl Cruz mixed it up with Falcon Eric Camson, with both of them being slapped with unsportsmanlike fouls. While the Tamaraws ended the first quarter with a four-point lead, the Falcons came back in the second to take a slim lead going into halftime.
In the third quarter, FEU, led by guards Terence Romeo and Chris Tolomia, surged to a nine-point lead, and looked to put an early end to the Falcons’ hopes.
Going into the fourth quarter, it seemed that FEU would make an easy romp to the win, as the Tams continued to keep Adamson at bay, and managed to up their lead to as much as 11 points.
When it appeared that FEU was going to repeat its 59-49 win in the first game, Jeric Canada went on a tear, scoring 8 points on a spirited drive to the basket and 2 booming 3-pointers to cut FEU’s lead down to a measly 3 points heading into the last two minutes.
However, the Tamaraws’ experience in the face of adversity proved to be the winning factor, as they managed to hold the Falcons at bay, buck the loss of reigning MVP RR Garcia to fouls, and escape with a 4-point win.
For the Adamson Falcons, it was a bitter defeat, considering that, prior to the Final Four matchup, they had finally put an end to the 29-game losing streak to Ateneo in order to claim the second seed, and the twice-to-beat advantage. Instead, they were twice beaten, and their season is at an end. For key players such as Canada, Lester Alvarez, Jan Colina and Janus Lozada, it was even more painful, since this was their last UAAP game.
For Ateneo, playing FEU doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be an easier match-up than Adamson. While the Blue Eagles managed to win both games in the elimination round, the Finals is an entirely different setting, with the two key Eagles, Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena, playing in the Finals for the first time. How Slaughter and Ravena adapt to the pressure cooker will be the key to Ateneo’s annexing a fourth straight title. Veterans Emman Monfort, Nico Salva, Kurt Long, Tonino Gonzaga, Justin Chua, and Bacon Austria will have to play their A-game to provide support.
The Tamaraws, on the other hand, may finally be complete come the Finals, with injured players JR Cawaling, Pipo Noundou, and Chris Sentcheu possibly playing, creating more matchup situations with the Blue Eagles. Aldrech Ramos may be shorter than Slaughter, but he can mix it up with the best of them; plus he can shoot from outside. Rookie Russel Escoto has shown that he’s fiery enough to be fearless in rebounding and attacking the basket. Throw in the potent 3-guard mix of RR Garcia, Terence Romeo and Chris Tolomia, and we’re probably looking at an explosive Finals match.
It’s going to be a long week, waiting for the Finals to begin.