FAR Eastern University may have National University's number since the elimination round of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament, but Tamaraws coach Nash Racela insisted it hardly matters when the Finals gets underway on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Tamaraws swept their head-to-head matchup with the Bulldogs in the regular season, drawing first blood in the first round, 71-62, before replicating the feat, 74-70, in their second meeting.
Now, both squads face off once again in the biggest stage of the competition.
“Kalimutan na natin ang nangayri before,” Racela said. What’s important is the series that’s ahead of us.”
“Plus, they’re going to be a different NU team pag dating sa Finals,” he added.
Game One of the best-of-three series tips off at 3:30 p.m.
The biggest differences, Racela believed, will be the inside-outside duo of Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino, not to mention a slew of unheralded cagers who have been rising to the occasion as of late.
“It’s going to be tough for us because Aroga and Alolino have been playing well,” Racela said. “What’s scarier is a number of role players is stepping up also.”
The Tamaraws, though, also have a two-man tandem they can turn to in Mike Tolomia and Anthony Hargrove, who feels can stand his ground against Aroga — better than he did against La Salle’s Jason Perkins and Arnold Van Opstal in the Final Four.
“Aroga is totally different compared to Perkins and AVO,” the American slotman said of his Cameroonian counterpart. “I see Aroga’s game kind of similar to mine: quick and athletic, so I feel like I can stand to him.”
“He’ll be a tough matchup for anybody else, but I feel comfortable and I accept it as a challenge,” he added.
Mac Belo has been the Tamaraws’ focal point on offense, but it was role player Carl Cruz, who has been the biggest thorn in the side of the Bulldogs.
Cruz fired a team-high 16 points in the Tams’ 71-62 win over the Bulldogs last August 9. The veteran forward scored just nine in their second meeting, but seven of his output came in the fourth quarter and overtime, including the short jumper that forced the extra period.
And Racela expects all of his key wards to have a hand this time in the hope of capturing the school's first crown since 2005.
“Team play: that’s what we always emphasize.”