By Jerome Lagunzad
Far Eastern University came so close in completing a stunning reversal over top-seeded Ateneo in their Final Four series and earning the right to face defending champion La Salle in a best-of-three finals in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament.
But first-year coach Olsen Racela refused to pin the blame on former Blue Eagle standout Arvin Tolentino, who pedaled his way back for a possible perimeter jumper instead of attacking the lane that could have given the Tamaraws a better chance of winning it all in regulation.
“We’re one (defensive) stop away,” said Racela, referring to FEU’s defensive breakdown on Ateneo’s pick-and-pop play that led to big man Isaac Go’s huge triple that tied things up at 75-apiece with 8.5 seconds left in regulation.
The Blue Eagles, behind the combined exploits of steady guard Matt Nieto and the 6-foot-7 Go, used that as a springboard to outplay the Tamaraws in the extra five-minute period and pull off an 88-84 victory last Wednesday night at the MOA Arena.
Although they came up short anew against the Blue Eagles in a knockout duel for the second straight year, Racela feels the Tamaraws have taken important steps to boost their belief as a formidable force to be reckoned with.
“Well, it was a completely different team sa nakita nyo sa the past three or four games. Kung nakita niyo, du’n nagstart ‘yung season. I’m just proud of the way these guys played. Towards the end, nakuha na nila ‘yung philosophy ko,” he said.
“A few weeks ago, we almost didn’t make the Final Four. Now, we were one stop away from making it to the Finals. ‘But the loss doesn’t define us,’ sabi ko sa kanila sa dugout. I’m just proud the way we grew this season and I am really looking forward next year.”
However, Racela will not have top defensive-minded wingman Ron Dennison and sweet-shooting guard Jojo Trinidad at his disposal since they both have already maximized their playing years with the Tamaraws.
The 6-foot-2 Dennison, who also transformed to a solid scorer underscored by his 11.6 points production on top of 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game, feels the Tamaraws, still one of the veteran-laden teams, can even make it to the finals next year.