MANILA, Philippines – Surely after tonight, FEU fans can finally completely forgive Arvin Tolentino.
After a rocky second half in the UAAP Season 81 that saw Tolentino accumulate a three-game suspension amid a four-game losing streak, the 6-foot-5 shooter made up for lost time in the best way possible.
With his UAAP career and FEU’s season on the line in a playoff knockout match against La Salle, Tolentino drained a cold-blooded three to get ahead, 71-70, in a grinded-out war.
With 3.1 seconds left in their turn to save their own season, La Salle’s graduating forward Santi Santillan got open in the paint but blew the potential game-winning layup as time expired.
As a result, FEU marched on to the Final Four to face defending champion Ateneo while La Salle missed out on a semifinal berth for the first time in 3 years.
Since returning from his back-to-back suspensions, the former Ateneo standout led the Tamaraws in scoring to finish the season on a high note, and most importantly, bounce back in time to clinch the La Salle knockout match.
And it all culminated with that one shot, that last-ditch effort to redeem himself from the troubles he went through beforehand.
As expected, the polarizing star couldn’t hold back his emotions in the post-game presser after their miracle win.
“We’ve been preparing for this game. Masaya,” he said. “Di ko na masasabi kung ano nangyari sa laro pero ito ‘yung lahat ng sacrifice and hard work namin, doon napunta.”
(I couldn’t even describe what happened to the game but this is where all our sacrifices and hard work went.)
After going down 0-4 to begin the second round, the Tamaraws charged back to the playoffs with a four-game winning streak.
“I’ve been working hard since I got to FEU,” Tolentino continued. “I changed myself. My coaches changed me. I just want to give everything for FEU. It could’ve been our last game. Iniisip ko lang kanina na ‘di ko sasayangin lahat ng sacrifices ko, especially ng teammates ko.”
(I just thought that I wouldn’t want to waste all my sacrifices, especially my teammates’.)
Tolentino had flashbacks of last year’s playoff heartbreak series against Ateneo. They were one possession away from the Finals, but flopped as the Eagles eventually won in overtime.
“To be honest, naisip ko talaga last year we had the chance para makapasok sa Finals. We blew it,” he said. “‘Yung nasayang na opportunity noon, ‘yung last shot namin, it still haunts me. ‘Yun din naisip ko kanina, sabi ko never again. Nung nakuha ko ‘yung bola, nag-zoom in na lahat.”
(To be honest, I really thought last year, we had the chance to get to the Finals. We blew it. We blew our opportunity then, our last shot, it still haunts me. That’s what I also thought earlier, I said never again. When I got the ball, everything just zoomed in.)
Right now, the Tamaraws now have the unenviable task of upsetting the Eagles with two straight playoff wins starting this Sunday, November 25.
But if anyone has the tools to do it, it’s the team that almost completed the same mission just a year prior.
“We’ll see what we can do. Ateneo’s a very tough team,” said FEU head coach Olsen Racela. “We always bring back last year’s Final Four, but last year, there was no [Angelo] Kouame. That’s our headache right now. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll prepare hard for this game, we’ll prepare the boys hard, we’ll see what happens.”
Right now, at least for the next few days, Arvin Tolentino’s redemption tour lives on. – Rappler.com