Six Things You Need to Know About the UAAP Finals

Natashya Gutierrez

MANILA, Philippines — It has truly been an exciting season, and now we are finally here, a day away from the 74th UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals.

Followers of the season know that the Ateneo Blue Eagles are attempting to win their fourth championship in a row. They also know that the teams meeting in the Finals this year are the same teams that met in the 2010 championships, as the Eagles face the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws.

But that’s only the beginning. Here are six must-know facts about the Finals, just in time for tomorrow’s Game 1.

Last season vs. this season

In last season’s Finals, the Tamaraws were the Number One seed and the favorites to win the championship after beating Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) when they met both times in the elimination round of season 73. This year, Ateneo is the top-seeded team only having lost one game in the elimination round. The Eagles beat FEU twice this season with a 69-49 win in the first round. In the second round, despite FEU leading in the first half, ADMU defeated the Tams 74-67 in overtime. 

Ateneo coach thinks this year will be different

Eagles’ coach Norman Black thinks this series will be a good one, and not the same as last year’s. Black was impressed with the Tamaraws’ win against the Adamson University (AdU) Soaring Falcons (the only team that beat the Eagles in the elimination round), despite being the third-seeded team. He warns that being an underdog or favorite going into the Finals is not telling of who will win the crown, and adds he was “impressed” by how FEU “came out with a lot of energy. 

“If you have a team improving during the course of the season, you’re doing a pretty good job,” he says of FEU.

Strengths 

Ateneo’s winning ingredients include size and a good defensive backcourt, according to Black. InboundPass.com columnist Chris Soler says the Eagles’ transition points are crucial to their win. Strong front-court players like Greg Slaughter also offer an advantage to the Eagles because he is able to “pound the ball inside,” says Black.

The FEU team, on the other hand, is more guard-oriented and scores from the perimeter, especially behind main shooters RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo. Soler also says that the Tams must rebound the way they did against Adamson to control the game. The Tams last won the title in 2005.

Analysts favor Ateneo

Soler and multi-titled coach Tim Cone pick Ateneo to win the Finals. Soler thinks the Eagles have not yet peaked, while Cone said Wednesday, “It’s gonna be a tough road for FEU. No doubt, Ateneo has shown some cracks recently, but they’re a big game team, and Norman Black is a big game coach.” Manila Bulletin sports writer Jonas Terrado also thinks that the injuries of Cameroonian forwards Pipo Noundou and Christian Sentcheu, which will force their absence on court, is likely to hurt FEU’s title bid.

When FEU played Adamson in Game 2 of the semifinals, however, FEU coach Bert Flores put injured players JR Cawaling, Noundou and Sentcheu on the court. ABS-CBN sports reporter Camille Naredo believes that if Flores is able to use those players even briefly against the Eagles, it will help the Tamaraws immensely.

FEU has the momentum

Many believe that the Tamaraws have the momentum going into the best-of-three series after upsetting second-seed Adamson University and winning six of their last seven games. Black acknowledges this, and those on Twitter have expressed the same opinion. Twitter user @Tito_Ces aptly describes the sentiment, saying “Fresh from defeating twice-to-beat AdU the momentum is now on FEU. The team is oozing with confidence and shouldn’t be taken lightly by Ateneo.” Boom Gonzales of ANC’s Hardball also says that FEU is “coming together at the perfect time…[and] are starting to blend with each other.” 

Players to Watch

The Tamaraws’ high-scoring guards Garcia, Romeo and Cris Tolomia will challenge Ateneo’s frontcourt defense led by Emman Monfort, Tonino Gonzaga and Kirk Long. 

The match-up to watch will be between centers Slaughter of the Eagles and Aldrech Ramos of FEU. Slaughter is seven-feet tall, five inches taller than his counterpart.

Kiefer Ravena, a consistent, explosive scorer is also a huge winning factor for the Eagles as is Nico Salva. In Ateneo’s two wins over FEU in the elimination round, Ravena led in scoring with 19 points and nine rebounds in the first round, while Salva scored a team-best 18 points, with 10 coming from the payoff period and OT in Round 2.

FEU however has stellar rookies as well. Aside from Tolomia, Russell Escoto is a force to reckon with. Both were crucial contributors to the Tams’ second win against AdU that carried FEU to the Finals, with Tolomia scoring 19 points, and Escoto finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @natashya_g