FAR Eastern University coach Nash Racela expects a tough coaching battle against Ateneo mentor Tab Baldwin as the Tamaraws look to return to the UAAP Season 79 Finals the hard way.
Racela is very familiar with Baldwin, having been his assistant coach during his head-coaching stint with Gilas Pilipinas over the past years while working together on the TNT bench - Racela as assistant and now future head coach; Baldwin as consultant.
Now, they find themselves on opposing ends along the sidelines as they look to bring their respective teams to the best-of-three finals against La Salle.
From what he knows of the former Gilas coach, Racela expects Baldwin to come fully prepared for the Final Four showdown - with a lot of surprises to boot - when they face Ateneo on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“For sure, marami siyang baon,” Racela said. “’Yung nakita natin sa kanya, probably five percent of what he has now. He has 95 percent more. Hopefully, we are ready to counter.”
As No. 2 seed, Baldwin’s squad is only one victory away from reaching the finals and a date with La Salle following a 10-4 win-loss run in the eliminations capped by six straight victories.
In contrast, Racela's Tamaraws wavered toward the end of the eliminations and needed a victory over the University of the East in their final game to clinch the No. 3 seed.
That's the reason Racela welcomed the long break - FEU last played last Novemebr 16 - as a chance for the Tamaraws to regroup and prepare for the Blue Eagles.
“We are looking good,” said Racela following FEU’s practice on Thursday. “I think the break really helped us sa preparation namin. We were able to give players rest and at the same time, we were able to work on a lot of things. Hopefully, it shows for Saturday’s game.”
Still, Racela is aware of the tall odds facing the Tamaraws especially after having been swept by the Blue Eagles during their elimination round season series. But he is hoping the long break gave his wards a better perspective heading into the game on Saturday.
“Ang sinasabi ko kanina was that you are entering the playoffs and you’ll be playing in the playoffs. More is expected from everybody. This is not the eliminations, this is the playoffs," said Racela.
"We have to level up with our performance and contributions. I think that’s the challenge for all of us coaches and players na mag-level up and to give more than what we normally do.”