MANILA, Philippines – In a virtual best-of-three showdown, it was the De La Salle Green Archers who fired the first shot when they defeated the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in their playoff game for the second spot last Saturday.
Both the Green Archers and the Tamaraws finished with identical 10-4 records at the end of the elimination round, but La Salle won their playoff, 74-69, to clinch the No. 2 spot in the Final Four and with it, the all-important twice-to-beat advantage.
La Salle now needs to win just once more in order to make it to the Finals for the first time since Season 71.
The Final Four clash between La Salle and FEU will formally start on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
La Salle and FEU took contrasting roads this season on their way to finishing with identical win-loss records.
FEU charged right out of the gate, sweeping the first round of the tournament – including an overtime win against La Salle. But in the second round, after a long break due to the FIBA Asia tournament, they stumbled, losing four of their first five games.
The Tamaraws, who seemed as though they would cruise to the top seed during the first round, could only assure themselves of a playoff for the twice-to-beat edge at the end of the elimination round.
Meanwhile, La Salle’s season started off at an uneven note. Head coach Juno Sauler took over the team just a few weeks before the start of the tournament, and the Green Archers went through growing pains en route to a 3-4 record at the end of the first round.
But the Green Archers found their groove in the second round. Jeron Teng, Almond Vosotros, and Jason Perkins took turns in starring for La Salle, as they swept all seven games.
In their first round encounter, La Salle came oh-so-close to giving FEU its first loss of the season. The Green Archers led by 13 points with just two minutes to go, only to see the Tamaraws end regulation with a stunning 15-2 run.
FEU’s star guards Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia helped the Tamaraws erase the deficit, with Garcia scoring 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, as they wound up winning 83-79.
La Salle got its revenge in the second round, winning 75-66, to hand FEU its second consecutive loss of the season at the time.
There was no meltdown for the Green Archers this time. After FEU cut a 12-point lead to two points – thanks again to Garcia – La Salle answered with a 9-2 scoring blitz to seize control of the game.
“Sweeping the second round has no connection at all to getting an advantage.” – De La Salle head coach Juno Sauler on his team’s potential edge against the Tamaraws.
"Lahat ng kalaban, mahirap. You can't really choose. The only advantage that we will have is the twice-to-beat. But you never know. Ang dami pang pwedeng mangyari." – FEU coach Nash Racela, after the Tamaraws beat UP in their last game of the elimination round.