UAAP S79 Jrs. Final Four Do-or-Die preview – #2 FEU Baby Tams vs. #3 Ateneo Blue Eaglets

Game one summary

The Ateneo Blue Eaglets had to manage FEU’s rebounding well. After all, it was their inability to crash the defensive glass which cost them in their playoff against the Baby Tamaraws.

This time around, the Blue Eaglets succeeded in controlling the rebounds, and they did so in convincing fashion.

Dave Ildefonso and crew dominated the Baby Tams, finishing with a +9 in rebounding and a +4 in offensive rebounding. Five of the Blue Eaglets players had three or more offensive boards, showing the concerned effort the team had in grabbing those loose balls.

Other than their rebounding, Ateneo’s maximized their length, forcing FEU to jack up jumpers. After all, when there’s a 6’11” behemoth with elite shot-blocking ability, you might as well just live and die by the three right?

At the end of it all, the Blue Eaglets dispatched the FEU Baby Tamaraws, 75-56 to force a do-or-die game for the last Finals spot.

Key Player for the FEU Baby Tamaraws

Given Ateneo’s sheer length, Daniel Celzo and Kenji Roman’s contributions very well may be considered moot. FEU will likely play small, relying on their shooting to try and space the floor for their bigs. Because of that, Xyrus Torres will be key for the chances of the Baby Tamaraws.

Torres emerged as FEU’s top scorer after the end of the eliminations, averaging 12.2 points per game. He was FEU’s only double-digit scorer in their balanced offensive attack, and most of those points are thanks to his three-point shooting.

Torres averaged a whopping 45 percent clip from three. What made this even more impressive was how more than 80 percent of the shots he took were from beyond the arc. Against the Blue Eaglets, however, he missed all five of his three-point attempts, ending up scoreless. His floor spacing was badly missed against an Ateneo offense that was able to pack the paint well against the Baby Tamaraws.

FEU has to face it: they’re going to have to hit three-point baskets to beat Ateneo. The Blue Eaglets have realized their strength, and FEU needs to counter it. Thankfully, they have a guy like Xyrus Torres to do just that.

Key Player for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets

The Ateneo Blue Eaglets have the biggest team in the league, and they’re starting to realize that. At the forefront of that is wunderkind Kai Sotto.

Kai is a 6’11” behemoth who isn’t just tall, but is an incredibly skilled big man. His shot-blocking ability is beyond his years, and he has shown that he has enough skill to contribute against players way older than him. He has developed well over the course of the season, transforming from being a benchwarmer to becoming arguably one of the best players in the league already (#HotTake).

In the three games he played significantly minutes versus FEU, he averaged seven points, a whopping 14.3 rebounds, and five blocks. Producing numbers like that against top big men Kenji Roman and Daniel Celzo show just how much progress Kai has had over the course of the season.

If he’s able to keep this up, the Blue Eaglets may very well make it to the Finals.

Coaches’ Corner

Coach Allan Albano’s squad was ranked 2nd in terms of total three-pointers made during the elimination round. Against the Blue Eaglets, they’re going to have to put on their best three-point shooting performance just yet.

In their first Final Four game, FEU made just four triples versus Ateneo’s two. They made more three point baskets, sure, but four is barely enough. They’re going to have to play somewhat like the Golden State Warriors if they want to have a chance.

What we can also expect FEU to try to do is get to the line more. They only attempted 14 free throws versus the 30 of Ateneo. Sure, Ateneo is a bigger team so drawing fouls is an easier job for them, but the Baby Tamaraws could adopt a more offensive-minded mentality by attacking Ateneo’s trees. Another option for them is to try and feed Kenji Roman and Daniel Celzo in the post, using their heft and strength to bait thinner players like Kai Sotto and Jason Credo to just foul them when they try to go for the score.

For Ateneo, expect them to continue to rely on their Bully Ball Lineup of Death. Their starting five of Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel, Jason Credo, Kai Sotto, and Romulo Berjay all finished with a positive plus-minus in the double-digits. The key for them is to continue to play disciplined basketball. They can’t allow themselves to be beat in effort again, as this was what doomed them in their playoff against FEU. At the same time, they can’t allow themselves to commit silly fouls. They are a young team, so this will certainly be a challenge.

As good as the Ateneo starters are, Coach Joe Silva will have to try and extract as much production from his bench as possible. Most of his reservers are either guys who are raw (Joshua Espino), or guys who can’t seem to produce consistently (Amchel Angeles and Andre Flores). At this point, it doesn’t matter if they’re able to produce consistently for the next games. What matters is his guys produce in this do-or-die so that they will have next games to worry about.

Prediction

The FEU Baby Tamaraws have had a great season. They’ve shown that they have progressed ever since their miracle run last season, presenting themselves as a team worthy of contending for a championship.
But, the Blue Eaglets look hell bent on avenging the semifinals loss last season’s team suffered.

The Blue Eaglets are starting to live up to the potential that many people tagged them as having before the start of the season, when some pundits even had them going all the way. After the first round, it didn’t look like they would even get a shot at a Finals berth, but now they’re one game away from realizing that dream.

That’s not to say that FEU has no chance in hell to win against Ateneo. They’re still a good team after all. But if the Baby Tamaraws don’t play at their very best (or if the Blue Eaglets don’t play at their very worst), it looks like Joe Silva will win the tiebreaker between him and Coach Allan Albano this season.

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