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UAAP Finals: Between the lines of FEU and NU before Game 3

This might come a little late, but I just got back from a 16-day sojourn of the United Kingdom.

When I look at the UAAP Season 77 Finals, I think the match-up between FEU and NU is one of the best things to happen to the league since UP won it all in 1986.

It is already a known fact that that the finals pairing broke the stranglehold that Ateneo and La Salle have had on alternating in finals appearances since 1987. It’s certainly very good that the Smart Araneta Coliseum is playing to a packed venue because that ought to show the advertisers that there is more to the league than the two aforementioned schools.

When I look at the two squads, they managed to get in by playing with a lot less pressure. It’s far from their previous year’s respective campaigns when they bombed out while playing under more pressure.

Losing a large number of players and previous league MVPs helped the respective players grow under a less harsh glare of television cameras and social media.

Taking a look at the NU Bulldogs after their Season 76 collapse despite owning a twice-to-beat advantage, some in the school felt that Eric Altamirano should be replaced as head coach. Some felt that the team was soft and pushed around easily by the UST Growling Tigers. But the team’s top official put the kibosh on any coaching change. One source told me that they felt that they saw the coaches put in their due diligence and that maybe the team needed to grow a little bit more. I’ll bet those who wanted wholesale changes are merely smiling now and aren’t part of any celebration in the Sampaloc school.

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Take point guard Gelo Alolino. Some wanted him dropped from the lineup. Even getting him as a Gatorade Brand Ambassador was met with questions. Personally, I thought that he had what it took to be a premier guard in the UAAP (yes, I think he is underrated).  

This particular team of Bulldogs have bonded over time and have had the benefit of very good coaches and an excellent support system. In fact, I’d like to point out to that little seen incident prior to the knockout match between NU and UE where the Red Warriors’ Charles Mammie was taunting the Bulldogs’ Alfred Aroga prior to the match. Aroga sat on his seat, paid no attention to Mammie and although he was initially fuming, team officials came over to soothe his frayed nerves. Aroga scored the winning free throws after fishing a foul from Mammie.

I love what has been done to National University as a whole in the last six years. The school has placed a premium on education by hiring top teachers. The facilities in place as well as the new curriculum have brought in a newer student base. One time while taking the elevator ride up to the gym, the students beside me were speaking in English! That was definitely unheard in these parts years ago. There is a bounce in the step of the school. The strides made in facilities, the education and athletics have given the students something they can be proud of.

The immediate surrounding areas have all been cleaned up. The front of the school is now home to sandwich and coffee shops.

Not too far from NU is Morayta, which is the enclave of Far Eastern University. The school has had the benefit of having sound educators improve the quality of their education such as former Department of Educations Culture and Sports Secretary Edilberto De Jesus and others. Their campus has also grown by leaps and bounds. A brother of mine who has been a professor in their school for the past 13 years certifies that upsurge in quality.

Over at sport, they have always been very good. But more so since they put in a program headed by Mark Molina, who in turn has brought in smart and shrewd managers like Vince Santos, who has developed their football program that is the best in the country at the moment.

In basketball, the Tamaraws looked imperious after the first round of play of Season 76. But this being FEU, everyone waited for them to collapse and they did no one favors by doing so. When some players physically fought among each other leading up to the Final Four everyone already knew that even before the game was played they had come undone.

As I have mentioned time and again, the Tamaraws began to play as a team during last season’s Champions League, where the ball was whipping around like crazy and players were getting their touches and buckets. The no-star system clearly worked for them. To borrow some tags from North America, the Legion of Doom became the Legion of Boom.

There were fears of a significant drop off with the loss of their previous team MVPs and team captain Gryann Mendoza. But no. They have kept on rolling.

Sure, head coach Nash Racela had to get it out of Mike Tolomia to be the ultimate playmaker – one capable of creating for teammates and scoring huge buckets – instead of looking to shoot first and shoot again later. The team of role players, from Carl Cruz to Roger Pogoy to Achi Iñigo, have all come up huge. Anthony Hargrove, when he is talking and closing that lane, has been very effective. Plus his passing is so underrated.

During the summer, it was Nash Racela’s goal to use La Salle as the yardstick in moving up in the league. They lost three matches to La Salle during the summer tourneys but every time they do, they were closing the gap and learning.

I mentioned earlier about either Ateneo and La Salle or both appearing in the finals since 1987. In that time too, another little known fact is for another team to win the title, they had to beat one of those two schools in convincing fashion to wrap up the crown for themselves.

FEU took down La Salle while NU reversed last season’s miscues by edging Ateneo in two games. So where does that leave us? Game Three.

One team will go home a winner after Wednesday. But in reality, the entire league wins.

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