By Aljo Dolores

What went on their first two encounters this season?

UST and FEU split their elimination-round games.

The Tigers took home the W in their first-round match against the Tamaraws, 82-74. Despite letting FEU shoot 46 percent from deep (13/28), UST took control of the game thanks to their 30 free throw attempts, where they made 24 points out of those. Soulemane Chabi Yo flexed his offensive prowess against the Tamaraws en route to his 21-point, 15-rebound performance—both game-highs. The win was part of UST’s 4-2 start that catapulted them to the top four early in the tournament.

FEU got its revenge on their second encounter as they pummeled UST, 72-58. The Tamaraws locked down the opposing shooters, limiting the Tigers to just 29 percent from the field and 21 percent from deep. The guard duo of LJay Gonzales and Royce Alforque combined for 33 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists to lead the Tamaraws to one of their five victories in the second round.

In all honesty, UST played badly on its two matches against FEU. The Tigers shot poorly on the field on both occasions, while the Tamaraws were having a feast on the offensive end. UST rests its fate on the team’s three-point shooting. Unfortunately for them, the Tamaraws have the length to lock down their shooters.

FEU’s length advantage was also on full display in the second game where they beat the Tigers in scoring down low, 32-16. The Tamaraws exhibited problems though in controlling their fouls, with 40 infractions over the two games as opposed to UST’s 25.

Outside of the stats mentioned, FEU and UST were almost even other facets of the game. Over the two games, the Tigers had a slight edge over the Tamaraws in rebounds (88-87) and assists (28-26). The first game of the stepladder can swing both ways, as shown by the results of their previous encounters.

Who will be the key players of the Final Four match?

FEU: LJay Gonzales and Royce Alforque

It’s been said time and time again that UST’s problem lies in their lack of height. FEU will naturally look to exploit the mismatch down low. However, their strength still lies on their point guard rotation. LJay Gonzales and Royce Alforque will likely dictate how the game swings for the Tamaraws.

Gonzales was splendid in both games against UST, as he averaged 16.5 points, five rebounds and two assists. It’s undisputable that he’s one of, if not the most important player in Coach Olsen Racela’s lineup right now. FEU will need those numbers to show up if they want to advance further in the stepladder.

Gonzales and Royce Alforque poses a ton of matchup problems for UST. For starters, Alforque and Gonzales both measure 6-foot-1, at least four inches taller than both Mark Nonoy and Renzo Subido. It’s not just about their size though. Both guards are crafty on offense, often showing flashes of gulang and control with their play. They move around pretty well on the floor, and often times get the best out of every situation they’re into. In the two games they played against UST, Alforque and Gonzales combined for 61.5 percent shooting and just four turnovers. If this is the duo that will show up in the Final Four, then expect FEU to have a deep run in the playoffs.

UST: Soulemane Chabi Yo and CJ Cansino

If all else fails for UST, they still have an MVP-caliber player to fall back into. Soulemane Chabi Yo has been a constant for the Tigers this season, producing double-double game after game. He will most likely be the barometer of success for UST in the Final Four. Even if it’s just a small sample, the disparity of Chabi Yo’s performances in the two games against FEU shows how he swings games in UST’s favor. In their first encounter which resulted in a win, Chabi Yo scored 21 points in 13 shots to lead all scorers in the game. In the second game though, Chabi Yo struggled offensively with just seven points on nine field goal attempts. That game resulted in a loss.

It is imperative for UST to get Chabi Yo involved on offense as often as possible. Even with UST’s well-documented affinity for three-point shooting, Chabi Yo is still the best Tiger on the offensive end. Let him take his shots, whether the threes are falling or not—especially when they are not.

It would be interesting though how CJ Cansino will be utilized by Coach Aldin Ayo. He is still on minutes restriction following his return from the ACL injury he suffered last season, and has not shown the full extent of his game just yet. Still, he has shown flashes of his usual self, which would make anyone wonder if this is perhaps the right time to remove his leash and let him play free. It’s certain that Cansino’s big game will be a big boost for UST in their postseason campaign.

Who will be the X-factors in the game?

FEU: Pat Tchuente

Pat Tchuente has been FEU’s trick-or-treat player in Season 82. One game he blows up for 20 points and becomes a bona fide MVP candidate. The next game he’s unexplicably reduced to a rebounder with no contribution on offense. There lies a question: Who will be the Tchuente to come out and play in the coming game?

Will it be the good? If so, then FEU will get a big boost on offense, just like what happened in their first-round games against Adamson and La Salle. Against the Falcons, Tchuente uncorked his best performance of the season with 21 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks. Against the Archers, he had 19-11 with two blocks. Both games resulted in wins, which shows how Tchuente can influence the outcome of FEU’s games with brilliant performances.

Will it be the bad? So far, Tchuente played measly on both games against UST, only scoring one (ONE!) point across the two outings. Tchuente’s scoring output doesn’t necessarily dictate FEU’s games, as they managed to split even without him showing up on the scoreboard. However, having him throw his weight on the paint, scoring down low should be one of the talking points in FEU’s game plan against UST given that he’s the tallest player on the floor.

UST: Sherwin Concepcion

UST has been so obsessed with the three-point shot this season that they are literally living and dying with it. I bet they prefer living than dying with it at this point, so they need one of their best shooters in Sherwin Concepcion to show up and light up from deep. At his best, Concepcion has the ability to rain triples down his opponents, which was exactly what he did when he knocked down five triples against UP.

Concepcion’s three-point shooting has greatly influenced the outcomes of UST’s game against FEU. Concepcion sank four triples in their first-round win against the Tamaraws. He then fired blanks on the second-round encountered which resulted in a loss for the Tigers. It’s highly likely that his performance will be a good gauge whether UST will make it through this round or not.

What are the key stats to look at this game?

FEU: fouls

FEU has been exceptional in limiting UST to a low shooting percentage this season. However, the problem lies on the fouls that they give up on the process. In their first-round loss against UST, the Tamaraws gave up 25 fouls which resulted to 30 free throw attempts by UST. Giving up that many free throws is synonymous to writing your own death sentence for the game.

FEU needs to play honest-to-goodness defense, which should be close to what they did in the second-round victory. They gave up 15 fouls, which is somewhat a normal number but still a great improvement from their previous outing. As such, UST was held back to just nine free throw attempts. That’s the kind of defense FEU needs to win the game.

UST: three-point shooting

For better or for worse, UST has selected three-point shooting as their main weapon this season. Whether they are leading or trailing, they always look for the best available shot from beyond the arc for them to take. This will most probably not change, given the size advantage FEU poses down low. As such, it is important for the Tigers to knock down their triples.

UST has already showcased the full extent of its three-point shooting this season in their second-round victory against the Fighting Maroons. Against UP’s crop of high-level talents working at full power, the Tigers eked out a win with built on the 16 triples they converted (38.1%).

However, UST experienced so-so shooting from deep at the very best in their games against FEU, probably because they were forced to take threes as opposed to setting them up beautifully. The second-round game was astonishingly worse, with the Tigers shooting 33 misses from deep. They kept chucking shots even if they were not falling in the first place. It particularly showed the ugly side of their weapon of choice: miss a lot, and you’ll lose.

Who will advance in the stepladder?

Both teams pose a ton of problems against each other. UST has been punishing opponents on defense thanks to Ayo’ mayhem, while FEU is a matchup problem for UST on almost every position. This game might go down to which team will have a better execution AND performance on offense.

While UST’s offensive scheme has the capability of bringing in a lot more points on the scoreboard, the Tigers have not yet shot consistently from deep, as shown by the high variance of their three-point shooting percentages. If they continue using the same strategy, then their triples will be a make-or-break number for them.

FEU probably has a more reliable system in place. Literally, anyone from the #16Davids can show up and put up the points on the board for the Tamaraws. FEU probably has the closest offensive approach to Ateneo’s “Next Man Up” mantra. On top of that, the Tamaraws have a lot of momentum on their side with their 5-2 performance in the second round. Their confidence must be sky high right now, which will matter on knockout games like this where you need to perform at your best from start to finish.

Given UST’s high-risk, high-reward approach to the game as opposed to FEU’s more balanced system, there’s a good chance that the Tamaraws might come out victorious in the knockout match.