THE FEU-NRMF Tamaraws and Hobe Bihon-Cars Unlimited, two teams with the most number of marquee players in their rosters, face off in a marquee showdown on Saturday in the 5th DeLeague in Marikina City.
The FEU-NRMF side warmed up for the crunch clash in style, banking on the combined 31 points of former PBA players Leo Avenido and Leo Najorda to easily dispose of NLEX Tollways, 88-63, on Thursday.
Hobe also looked in sharp form, trouncing Our Lady of Fatima University, 117-63, despite resting imports Steve Akomo and I. Yakitaba and high-profile players Al Vergara and Charles Tiu.
FEU-NRMF coach Cris Bautista admitted he kept his cards close to his chest, knowing that the scouts of Hobe, which played in the succeeding game, were closely monitoring their plays.
"Hindi muna namin nilabas lahat ng play. Pinagpahinga ko nga karamihan ng players. Petiks petiks lang. But of course that's not about underestimating the capabilities of NLEX," said Bautista, who is also an assistant coach of La Salle Greenhills in the NCAA.
The Road Warriors, a team preparing for the coming inter-company Manny V. Pangilinan Cup, were led by former PBA forward Ervin Sotto, who finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and two assists.
FEU-NRMF D-Top opened leads as big as 23 points in the first half before Bautista began pulling out top players Avenido, Najorda, Taylor Statham, Egay Billones, Froilan Baguion, Hans Thiele, Willie Miller, Bright Akhuetie and Prince Eze one by one.
"When we got the huge lead, I wanted to make sure na we rest our legs kasi we have a Friday afternoon practice pa sa Unilab Gym bago namin harapin ang Hobe. They'll be the toughest test for us. Sila ang runner-up last year," said Bautista, whose team lost a shot at the DeLeague title last year after bowing to the Siargao Legends in the semifinals.
"Boss Nino (Reyes) wants nothing but the championship. Runner-up na kami last year, we want to improve," said Bautista, who utilized all of his 15 players.
Former PBA draftee Erick Dela Cuesta paced Hobe with 19 points including six triples while former Purefoods star guard Roger Yap finally debuted for the team with eight points. Another former pro, Bonbon Custodio, adding six.
FEU-NRMF is now 2-0 (win-loss) while Hode is 3-0 heading to the 8:30 p.m. showdown at the Marikina Sports Park Gym in this tournament organized by Mayor Del De Guzman and supervised by former cager Sonny Manucat.