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Ateneo, FEU in sudden death

baldwin and racela

By Jerome Lagunzad

Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
4 p.m. – FEU vs Ateneo
(Final Four, do-or-die match)

Will Ateneo’s dream run end in a nightmare? Or will host Far Eastern University come up short anew?

The bold answer to those pressing questions will be known today as the top-seeded Blue Eagles and the fourth-ranked Tamaraws go at it one more time for the remaining finals seat in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Tip off is at 4 p.m., with Ateneo out to bounce back from a numbing 80-67 loss in the series opener last Sunday and FEU determined to accomplish an unfinished business last year when the Tamaraws lost to the Blue Eagles in the same knockout battle.

The winner of the sudden-death showdown that’s expected to draw a capacity crowd will earn the right to face defending champion La Salle in a best-of-three titular showdown starting on Saturday.

Momentum should be on the side of the Tamaraws, who appear to be peaking at the right time after scoring a morale-boosting 71-54 victory over the No. 3 Adamson Soaring Falcons on the final day of eliminations.

“Definitely, it’s our best game so far sa season naming. We’re hoping na maulit for Game 2,” said FEU’s first-year coach Olsen Racela, a former Ateneo standout who helped it clinch the 1988 UAAP title.

“I told the players na nagpi-peak kami at the right time so hindi pa tapos ‘yung season namin. ‘Yung mga pinagdaanan namin sa eliminations, talagang makakatulong sa amin lalo na sa mga ganitong klaseng laro.”

The same, however, could not be viewed from the Blue Eagles, who find themselves on the brink of elimination after nearly pulling off a 14-game sweep of the eliminations had they not dropped a 79-76 decision to the Green Archers last Nov. 12.

“We have to accept the humility of the scenario. We have to get back to understanding what we do well, and sort of rediscover who we are,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.

Blue Eagles wingman Thirdy Ravena vowed to come out strong against the Tamaraws. “We didn’t work this hard just to lose in the Final Four. We’re gonna put up a fight on Wednesday(today),” he said.

Ravena and Co., however, should expect the same from the Tamaraws, a veteran-ladend crew led by Ron Dennison, Richard Escoto, Cameroon big man Prince Orizu and a pair of former Blue Eagles stalwarts Arvin Tolentino and Hubert Cani.

A fair share of the spotlight is also expected on the battle from the sidelines, with Racela looking to get the job done against his “very experienced” counterpart Baldwin.

“We expect adjustments, counters from Coach Tab,” He said. “Before the season started, I was really looking forward to playing the top caliber coaches. It’s for my growth as a coach so tingnan natin. Yung mga coaching staff ko rin naman, maraming inputs sa akin so we’ll see.”