IF things were difficult for Far Eastern University against Ateneo in the Final Four for the past two seasons, the job gets a lot harder this UAAP Season 81 with the addition of Angelo Kouame in the Blue Eagles' nest.
And for Tamaraws coach Olsen Racela, that's the main reason why the boys from Morayta will have their hands full against the defending champions on Sunday.
"Ateneo is a very tough team. I always bring it back to last year's Final Four, pero last year, wala si Kouame eh. Siya ang headache namin ngayon," he said.
The Ivorian recruit has been a rock for the Blue Eagles in their back-to-back bid this season, averaging 14.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks to help the Katipunan side snare the top seed.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, however, would beg to disagree.
"That’s his viewpoint," he said, hammering the fact that his side's collective brilliance is the main reason for its success.
"I’d like to think that we have a roster that could play good basketball when Ange isn’t there. All of my players are key players, in my opinion and he has his own opinions. We don’t try to feature Ange, we don’t try to hide anybody else. We expect everybody on our roster to step up and make the plays that they’re called upon to make and do the job they’re called upon to do."
Ateneo remains the odds-on favorite in its fourth straight semifinals duel with FEU. The Blue Eagles took the last two meetings, both under the guidance of Baldwin.
What's working in Racela's favor, however, is that the FEU has already proven itself capable of scaling the mountain of a challenge that is Ateneo, dating back to a 63-60 shocker in the first round.
"Wala na kaming control doon because of what happened to us in the season, but we'll see what we can do," he said as the Tamaraws also shake off the memories of their bitter 82-62 blowout loss to the Blue Eagles in the second round.
"We will prepare hard for this game. We'll prepare the boys hard and we'll see what happens."