WHAT a difference two weeks make.
Just last month, Far Eastern University's Tamaraws were the toast of the UAAP after a sweep of their seven games in the first round while top star Terrence Romeo was its poster boy, hailed as a great individual talent who has finally figured out how it is to play within the team concept.
One loss at the resumption of hostilities following a self-imposed league break to give way to the hosting of the Fiba-Asia championships not only quashed FEU's chance of a two-round sweep of the eliminations but also revealed cracks in the Tamaraws' armor.
It was not so much the defeat but the way the Tamaraws lost the game that has riled FEU coach Nash Racela, who initially tried to take the flak for the defeat until he could no longer suppress the rage inside him.
“I would say that it was my fault because of my commitment with Gilas. So probably, I was sending a wrong message (to the players) by not being there,” said Racela, who was forced to miss some FEU practices owing to his role as an assistant coach at Gilas.
But when asked what he told his boys inside the dugout, Racela admitted, “Iba doon sa pinag-usapan natin.”
Pressed on what led to the 58-59 loss to National University, Racela said: “Siguro part of the culture change, more off the court,” without elaborating.
It was no surprise that Romeo took the heat from fans after the defeat where he finished with only eight points on 3-of-16 shooting and tried to go on his own in a late offensive play and ended up turning the ball over, setting the stage for Bobby Parks' game-winning free throws.
Worse, his relationship with fellow star RR Garcia once again showed cracks when he tried to waive off his backcourt partner, who until then had carried the fight for the Tamaraws, not just once during that fateful final play.
Romeo ended up losing the ball on a crossover, fanning accusations that he had gone back to his old ways.
One of those who noticed and was bold enough to air his thoughts, former Ateneo star Nico Salva, said via Twitter, "Romeo is back to his old self. Why dont u just give the ball to RR?"
He ended up in an online spat with Romeo who obviously didn't appreciate the dig. (For full story, see Nico Salva's dig at 'ball hog' Terrence Romeo triggers war of words on Twitter)
Sought for comment later, Romeo admitted that he was "out of shape" because he "relaxed" during the Fiba-Asia break, bolstering rumors that Racela blew his top after learning that his players had "one too many night outs" during the lull while their coach was away on Gilas duty.
Romeo, at least, was man enough to admit that he underperformed.
“Disiplina namin, hindi ko nadala sa sarili ko. Medyo napabayaan ko ‘yung kundisyon ko,” the league's leading MVP contender acknowledged. “Medyo nakaapekto, hindi namin nagamit ‘yung long break na makapag-pahinga. Medyo nag-relax kami.”
Asked about Romeo’s struggles, Racela pointed to his Gilas commitment and said: “It’s all connected.”
All that showed was that the Tamaraws, for all their inspired play in the first round, remain a work in progress as they look to end years of frustration since winning the school's last championship in 2005 with a team bannered by Arwind Santos, Jeff Chan, and Dennis Miranda.
Racela, however, has embraced the challenge.
“Good thing despite us struggling the whole game, we could have won the game. We gave up a few free throws in the end,” said Racela.
“But it will depend on how quick we adjust and change. ‘Yun ang importante after this loss. It’s welcome for me. I welcome this (challenge) with open arms.”