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What must FEU do to get a win against Ateneo?

FEU's Ron Dennison and Thirdy Ravena of Ateneo

MANILA, Philippines - For the third straight year, Ateneo and FEU square off in the Final Four of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament. The Tamaraws won two years ago while the Blue Eagles exacted revenge last year. But this is far from a rubber match because the composition of these teams are rather different. For instance, two of FEU’s current stalwarts — Hubert Cani and Arvin Tolentino — previously wore blue and white.

Ateneo took both elimination round meetings this season: 94-82 in the first round and 70-59 in the second round.

In the first meeting, Ateneo started strong, wilted just a bit in the middle two quarters then finished well.

Come the second round, Ateneo started off poorly, did better in the middle quarters then finished off FEU in the payoff period.

Looking at the Tamaraws this season, they have been largely inconsistent. Like Adamson, I believe that comes with integrating so many new parts into the old machine, hence, a lack of chemistry. And in my observation, even the substitution pattern has been rather wonky.

Someone asked me yesterday if Olsen Racela has done a poor job. I do not think so. This team is a wholly different team from any time of FEU’s illustrious cage history. This is the most diverse squad — the Manileños and Visayans have made way for Fil-Ams, Fil-Canadians and Fil-Kiwis, and an African. If the Holmqvist brothers were still around then think about it. Case in point, during that infamous rumble with La Salle in Davao, quite a few people within the team said that had this been the one that went to the finals two years ago (with Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, Mac Belo, Raymar Jose, Carl Bryan Cruz, and Russel Escoto), then they would have really fought.

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For Racela, it’s a period of adjustment as he came in with a triangle offense mindset but has since switched it on and off, mixing it with elements of the old dribble drive. Olsen knows that the UAAP is a different animal from the summer tourneys; hence, his bringing up Jasper Parker slowly. JR Ramirez on the other hand has struggled.

But here is now.

What must the Tamaraws do to get that win and force the series to a deciding second match?

Aside from the strong start and the strong finish, they need to find some consistency in helping out Tolentino, the one constant in both matches. The first round was a near disaster as they were clobbered in almost every statistical category. Come the second round, it was closer but Ateneo was great in the clutch.

Wendell Comboy has had good games against Ateneo, but the onus is on him to be there in crunch time as he has rather faded when the going got tough. If he does well and stays in the game, that’s going to be a huge help because he can make things happen by getting to the rack and shooting.

Prince Orizu must wreak havoc inside to upset Ateneo’s rotation. He was a non-factor in the fourth period during the second round loss. He causes trouble because of his strength and activity. If he can continue that, FEU has a chance.

The Tamaraws also need to limit their turnovers. In two matches against Ateneo, they have surrendered 11.5 turnover points (in contrast, FEU managed only 4.5 versus the Blue Eagles).

One thing going for the Tams is they aren’t afraid of Ateneo. But so is Ateneo which knows they are better than their Morayta foes.

Again, for Ateneo to wrap this up, they’ll need to pound FEU from the inside and outside, just like they did in both outings. And Chibueze Ikeh has to be a factor in this game (unlike against La Salle where he mostly sat). If Ikeh, Isaac Go and Vince Tolentino play solid games, the Blue Eagles will advance to the finals.

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