By Karl Batungbacal
The FEU Tamaraws have had one of the wildest rides this season thus far. They’ve looked poised to crash the Final Four party with their hot shooting and intense man-to-man defense.
Or maybe not.
Talent has never been an issue for FEU. Coach Olsen Racela and the Tamaraws has had a great track record in terms of player development and proper utilization of the players under their care. From the seniors in Hubert Cani, Wendellino Comboy, Kenneth Tuffin, and Barkley Eboña, to their newcomers in LJay Gonzales, Royce Alforque, and Xyrus Torres, FEU has players with talent.
As it stands, the Tamaraws have a record of five wins and six losses, which has been enough to keep them in the middle of the Final Four race. Of those six losses, the most glaring ones are the eight-point loss to UST, the 22-point drubbing courtesy of the then-winless NU Bulldogs and their collapse versus the Ateneo Blue Eagles last October 16.
It’s a confusing resume for FEU, which makes us ask, who really are the FEU Tamaraws? Case in point, the most recent game against Ateneo.
Going into the half, Coach Racela’s squad was carrying an 11-point lead, 40-29. They truly made the Ateneo offense work for their 29 points, one of the defending champions’ lowest outputs in a half. For the better part of the halftime break, fans were right to question whether FEU would finally be the ones to give the defending champions their first loss of the season.
After all, the Tamaraws were having one of its best overall games in quite some time. Brandrey Bienes’ threes were falling. LJay Gonzales was a speed demon on offense. Alec Stockton’s pesky defense frustrated the best of Ateneo’s offensive weapons. All of this while Olsen Racela was trying his best not to smile. He couldn’t resist letting out a roar after Bienes hit a buzzer beating three to end the half.
Then came the defending champs’ grit and grind offense which stalled everything FEU tried to run. Their 11-point lead turned into a 10-point loss.
Another case would be the shocking and disappointing 22-point loss that was handed to them by the Bulldogs. Before their encounter, the Tamaraws had a record of two wins and three losses. They were fresh off a close loss versus the contending UST Growling Tigers, which shouldn’t have dampened the mood of FEU too much.
Instead, FEU came out flat. The Bulldogs, after losing five straight games, caught the Tamaraws napping and beat them down handily all game long.
There has to be some sort of switch somewhere in the playing venue that affects these Tamaraws. Their offense is either as hot as Gary David’s shooting in the series against B-Meg in the 2011-2012 PBA Philippine Cup, or it gets as cold as Elsa’s ice powers in Frozen. Their defense is consistent, but you can’t win games by not putting up points.
Olsen Racela is a great coach and he’s bringing out the most in his players especially, “Speedy” Gonzales and FSA Patrick Tchuente. To his credit, he’s coaching the heck out of these guys but the team just falters somewhere in the middle. Be it due to pressure, lack of communication on the court, or just the normal collapse, this FEU team has to sort it out as soon as possible and play more consistently.
For instance, Tchuente, who plays well for two-thirds of the game then suddenly disappears/lacks motivation when the offense doesn’t find him. Stockton, while a good defender, has moments when he goes away from the game of basketball.
Simply put, there’s barely any consistency that the Tamaraws play with. One second later, you see purpose with the action they run. The next, the Tamaraws suddenly play messy, with zero idea where to go with their offense.
The silver lining here is this: a Final Four berth is still possible. If the Tamaraws were to tighten up on their fundamentals and commit to an offensive and defensive scheme that works similar to how they stopped Ateneo in the first half of their game, then it should only be fair to assume that the Tams can make noise in the postseason. When they play at their best, they’re a Finals contender. The goal now is to consistently get to play in that level and maybe finally, we can figure out who FEU truly is.