MANILA, Philippines – Four games into the UAAP Season 81, the FEU Tamaraws were at rock-bottom.
They had just lost a 25-point beating at the hands of last-place UE and were left with more questions than answers.
All FEU head coach Olsen Racela asked for at that time was more consistency from his team, which was winning against supposed contenders but losing against cellar-dwellers. Lead guard Wendell Comboy even issued an apology to the FEU community for how bad they have been playing.
But since then, a switch seemingly turned on. After their third win against the NU Bulldogs, the Tamaraws suddenly ramped up the pace and eked out back-to-back 3-point wins against the top two teams Adamson Soaring Falcons, 88-85, and the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 63-60.
More impressively, FEU won over the defending champions while their leading scorer Arvin Tolentino was serving his one-game suspension after getting ejected in the Adamson game.
Even “Rah-rah” Racela could not describe what just happened to his team, which has ended the first round at 5-2, skyrocketing to a share of second place just behind Adamson.
“’Di ko rin alam kung paano namin ginawa ‘yun eh. If you noticed, kami ‘yung pinaka-grabe ‘yung schedule. May laro pa kami sa Linggo, so we played 5 games in two weeks,” he said in the post-game presser. “‘Di ko alam kung kalian huli nangyari ‘yun sa isang UAAP team and to add to that, back-to-back ‘yung Adamson and Ateneo. And then we played Ateneo without our top scorer. So kung ako tatanungin, ‘di ko rin alam kung paano ginawa ‘yun eh.”
(I don’t even know how we did that. If you noticed, we had the heaviest schedule. We still have a game on Sunday, so we played 5 games in two weeks. I don’t know the last time that happened to a UAAP team. Then we played Ateneo without our top scorer. So if you’d ask me, I don’t know how we pulled that off.)
Indeed, even without Tolentino, nearly every single Tamaraw stepped up, led by Hubert Cani’s 12 points off the bench. After him, 6 other Tams scored at least 8 points, including stand-in forward Branrey Bienes.
Axel Iñigo’s patented long bombs also played a crucial role in igniting his team’s 17-4 comeback run in the 3rd quarter after being down 22-32 at halftime.
“I just want to give credit to my players. Every single one of them, although we didn’t have a good start. And against Ateneo, you can’t do that,” Racela continued. “It’s a good thing that we came back because of these two guys [Bienes and Iñigo]. These two are very patient and they’re very selfless.
In a normal rotation, Bienes is stuck behind league vets Tolentino and Richard Escoto while Iñigo is part of a jampacked backcourt that already has Cani, Jasper Parker, Wendell Comboy, L-Jay Gonzales and Alec Stockton.
“Sabi ni coach ready lang talaga kasi malay mo, bunutin every game,” Bienes said. “Tsaka inisip ko kagabi, ‘di maglalaro si Arvin, siguro baka palaruin ako ni coach.”
(Coach told me to just be ready because you never know when you’re going to be called to play. And I also knew that Arvin wouldn’t play so I thought I’d get to play.)
“Kahit ilang minuto ibibigay ni coach, ibibigay ko best ko,” Iñigo chimed in. “Manalo, matalo, magpapakamatay ako para makapag-contribute sa team. Kahit ‘di ako maka-shoot.”
(I’ll give my best with whatever minutes coach gives me. Win or lose, I’d give my all just so I could contribute to the team, even if I cannot shoot.)
As today’s shocker win proved, no rotation is too tight for those who just want to win. – Rappler.com