FEU booked its first Finals appearance since it last won the title in Season 75.
As far as opening punches go, Ateneo couldn’t have landed a bigger haymaker on FEU to start their do-or-die Final Four encounter in the UAAP Season 79 Juniors Basketball tournament.
However, the Baby Tamaraws proved to be the more composed down the stretch, coming back to win this one by a close decision.
FEU-FERN advanced to the UAAP Finals after taking down the Blue Eaglets in a thriller, 74-72, Friday at the San Juan Arena, setting up a best-of-3 series against defending champion Nazareth School of National University.
FEU appeared to be in trouble early as the Blue Eaglets jumped to a 10-0 run in the first quarter, however, the no. 2 seeded Baby Tamaraws settled down to take control well into the second quarter.
Both teams traded blows up until the fourth period before FEU landed a big 9-0 run that took the fight out of Ateneo.
After the Blue Eaglets led, 60-59, following two quick baskets with 6:02 to go, the Baby Tams responded with nine straight points to regain the lead that they never surrendered.
Jack Gloria put FEU up, 74-68, with 68 seconds to go and the Baby Tamaraws would clamp down on defense the rest of the way to secure the two-point win.
FEU also got help from Ateneo having four fouls to give in the last 22 seconds as the Blue Eaglets failed to send any Baby Tamaraw to the line until there was only 1.9 seconds left on the clock. A final heave from SJ Belangel was way off as FEU booked its first Finals appearance since it last won the title in Season 75.
“Ang galing ng mga player ko, hindi sila bumigay,” head coach Allan Albano said. “Talagang laban sila. Last two years ito pinaghandaan nila kaya salamat sa mga players ko na hindi bumigay.”
LJ Gonzales led FEU with 22 points off the bench while Gloria and Kenji Roman added 14 apiece.
For Ateneo,6 foot 9 Kai Sotto posted a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double in a losing effort. Jason Credo likewise scored 16 for the Blue Eaglets.
Game 1 between NU and FEU is set for Tuesday also at the San Juan Arena.
FEU 74 – Gonzales 22, Roman, 14, Gloria 14, Jabel 8, Torres 6, Gabane 5, Abarrientos 3, Celzo 2.
ADMU 72 – Sotto 16, Credo 16, Ildefonso 15, Belangel 13, Berjay 7, Manuel 5.
Quarterscores: 23-22, 36-37, 56-55, 74-72.