MANILA -- Refusing to wilt until the last minute, La Salle overcame a stiff challenge from Far Eastern University on Wednesday, 69-66, to arrange a semifinal showdown with archrival Ateneo de Manila in the 75th UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
With the win, the Green Archers earned a spot in the Final Four it missed last year while the Tamaraws failed to stop a three-game slump to be booted out of title contention, the first since 2007.
“It all boiled down to defense, the fourth quarter was really crucial for us,” freshman mentor Gee Abanilla told reporters at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Ateneo holds a twice-to-beat advantage going into Saturday’s expected sell out tiff at the Araneta Coliseum as Abanilla hope they will be able to ride the momentum.
“It’s going to be an exciting match-up. We’re clearly the underdogs and they are really a strong team. But I'm very happy with the way we've been performing and we're peaking at the right time. Hopefully the long layoff (of Ateneo) will do well for us,” Abanilla said.
La Salle and Ateneo will meet in the semis after seven years. The Archers prevailed at the time, 74-57.
Wednesday’s win or go home atmosphere saw the Green Archers unleashing an 11-0 blitz to snatch the lead from 10 points down, 61-60, before padding the lead to seven with 38.6 ticks left.
Backcourt combo Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia put up a gallant stand in the next few seconds, trimming the deficit to just a solitary point, 66-67, but La Salle extended the lead to three, courtesy of split freebies by Jeron Teng and Almond Vosotros.
It was a tough loss to swallow for FEU, whose bid to avenge its back-to-back championship losses to Ateneo have come to naught. Before this, the Tamaraws bowed to National University and also to
La Salle in the past week to dim their chances of making it to the semifinals.
Both are holding a 9-5 card at the end of the double-round eliminations, paving the way for the knockout match.
“We had a bad execution in our end game. It’s not really for us,” said FEU coach Bert Flores.
Shining for the Archers was bigman Norbert Torres, who poured five of his 21 points in the last two minutes to give the school the much-needed breather. The former national youth team member also hauled 13 rebounds in 25 minutes of play.
Garcia had a silent night, finishing with just eight points on a woeful 3-of-14 shooting. Romeo and Mark Bringas combined for 25 markers. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)
La Salle (69)-- N.Torres 21, Teng 15, Vosotros 9, Van Opstal 8, T.Torres 7, Mendoza 7, Andrada 2, Webb 0, Manguera 0, Tampus 0, Revilla 0.
FEU (66)-- Romeo 13, M. Bringas 12, Garcia 8, Hargrove 7, Mendoza 7, Pogoy 6, Belo 5, Escoto 4, Tolomia 2, A. Bringas 2, Sentchu 0, Foronda 0, Cruz 0.
Quarterscores: 13-19, 28-35, 46-52, 69-66.