MANILA – The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws know that they could have made life so much easier for themselves in the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament.
A dominant 82-56 triumph over Adamson University in their last game of the elimination round on Sunday gave the Tamaraws an 8-6 win-loss record, tying them with De La Salle for a share of fourth place.
They will play the Green Archers in a knockout game on Wednesday, with the winner going on to face the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles in the Final 4
"If we took care of business early on, dapat nasa mas magandang position kami," acknowledged FEU coach Olsen Racela.
For a brief moment midway through the tournament, the Tamaraws had been at the top of the league standings. With wins over Ateneo and Adamson — the eventual top two seeds — they compiled a 5-2 win-loss record after the first round to claim the No. 1 spot.
It was a moment that passed all too quickly. The Tamaraws proceeded to lose their next four games — to University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo, University of the Philippines, and La Salle — and found themselves on the outside looking in the Final 4 picture.
The loss to UST was particularly painful: it was already their second defeat to the Growling Tigers, a team that wound up missing the semifinals. Also proving costly? A shocking 90-65 setback to cellar-dweller University of the East in the first round. That was the Red Warriors' lone win of Season 81.
FEU avenged that loss in the second round, kicking off a three-game winning streak that salvaged their season. Still, they know that those early defeats to non-Final 4 teams deeply hurt their own campaign.
But veteran swingman Wendel Comboy says they cannot dwell on those lost chances.
"Tapos na 'yung first and second round of eliminations, wala na kami magagawa sa mga nakalipas," he said.
Coach Olsen Racela also pointed out that finally, the Tamaraws are getting the breaks that seemed to elude them earlier in the season, when they lost Prince Orizu to an injury and wound up dropping four straight games.
"Like I said, we're finally getting the breaks. 'Yung mga injuries, hindi naman maiiwasan 'yun, 'yung kay Prince and the time it happened," he said. "Very crucial games sa mga teams na kadikit namin."
"'Di namin maiiwasan iyon, pero right now, we have an opportunity, and we have one more game," he added. "Nabigyan kami ng biyaya, so dapat lubusin namin."
Racela and the Tamaraws stressed that all their focus is now on Wednesday's do-or-die game against the Green Archers, with whom they split their season series.
"Playoff against La Salle on Wednesday. 'Yung focus namin, ishi-shift namin," said Arvin Tolentino, who had 10 points in just 14 minutes against the Soaring Falcons. "Tomorrow, start 'yung preparation namin."
"Bale-wala rin panalo namin ngayon, kung 'di namin gagawin 'yung best namin sa Wednesday against La Salle," added FEU point guard Hubert Cani, who had 10 points and 5 rebounds in their win. "So 'yung focus namin ay dapat ibigay lahat, tsaka 'yung effort."
Work will start immediately for Racela, who is bracing for a tough match-up against the Green Archers — especially as La Salle now has the services of Kiwi big man Taane Samuel.
"That's an extra body for them," Racela noted. "Natalo kami sa rebounding last game, so malaking bagay sa kanila 'yun. But we have Prince back, so hopefully, that will help us defend the interior."
"Pero marami silang masyadong weapons," he added. "So we'll see what happens on Wednesday. We'll prepare hard against them."
The game is set for 3:30 p.m. at the Araneta Coliseum.