By Jerome Lagunzad
Right from the start, new Far Eastern University coach Olsen Racela already knew that a tough work is cut out for him in terms of sustaining the Tamaraws’ winning tradition in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
And the elder brother of former FEU coach Nash, who led FEU to the Promised Land in 2015, got an immediate reality check over the weekend when his wards fell prey to defending champion La Salle, 95-90, on Sunday in their keenly-awaited showdown before a huge crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena .
“It shows kung nasaan kami ngayon. Malayo pa kami even for a Final Four contention di ba?” Olsen readily asked reporters, practically admitting that the new-look Tamaraws still have a long way to go before they could even join the usual Final Four conversation.
And their failure to take full advantage of reigning league MVP Ben Mbala’s absence on a loaded Green Archers side gives Racela and the Tamaraws one concrete reason to play with a sense of urgency starting against the University of the East Red Warriors today.
“Losing a game to the defending champions without their MVP ‘diba? Malayo pa kami. So ngayon, alam na ng mga bata kung ano pang kailangan naming gawin para for us to get there,” added Racela.
Even veteran Ron Dennison felt the Tamaraws, notably his younger teammates, failed to keep their emotions in check early on that enabled the Green Archers to get off to a swashbuckling start, highlighted by a blinding 26-5 run that set the tone for a one-sided affair.
“Parang iba ang mental ng mga kasama ko. Hindi lang ready,” rued the Cebuano guard, a usual defensive stopper who took up the offensive cudgels with 21 points and ignited FEU’s late rally that still went far naught.
“‘Yung iba baguhan pa lang, parang nanibago sa crowd. Iba kasi UAAP talaga. Nakakuha kami ng momentum sa fourth (quarter) pero kinapos na rin. Napakita naman namin na kaya pa rin namin (humabol) pero yun nga, wala na, late na talaga.”
Still, the Tamaraws’ late fightback that saw them trim what once a big 23-point lead down to just five markers in the closing minutes is an enough positive takeaway for Racela.
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