Expect an explosive matchup between the Far Eastern University Tamaraws and University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers as the stepladder semifinals of the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament kicks off this Wednesday.
The victor will face the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons who have a twice-to-beat advantage.
Here's a closer look at their upcoming postseason duel.
First meeting: UST def. FEU, 82-74
Second meeting: FEU def. UST, 72-58
How FEU got here
FEU struggled with inconsistency early on but was able to string up wins when it mattered. Whenever the Tamaraws lost to a non-Final Four contender, they would bounce back in a big way by taking down a tougher opponent.
FEU coach Olsen Racela has taken pride in his team's defense all season long. To take control of a game, the Tamaraws would focus on the defensive end to spark runs and get ahead. They only allow an average of 65.9 points a game, second to the Ateneo Blue Eagles. They are the best team in stifling opponents in terms of field goal percentage allowed (33.0) and 3-point shooting (22.5).
When it comes to scoring, L-Jay Gonzales has taken on the lead role. The sophomore guard is putting up 10.8 points per game and, astonishingly, is the team's second-leading rebounder with 7.4 per contest. Gonzales is the motor that keeps the FEU offense humming.
How UST got here
The Growling Tigers have gained a reputation in Season 82 as a deadly offensive team and their league-best 79.2 points is a testament to their style of play. They approach every game with fury, not necessarily relying on fast break opportunities, but instead overwhelming defenses by attacking relentlessly. They play fast but not hurried, often wearing down the opposition.
UST is a team loves to shoot from the outside. The Tigers are number one in perimeter points at 39.6 per game and dead last in points in the paint with 26.4. They rely heavily on their 3-point shooting (30.3 percent), which is third in the league.
A huge reason why the Tigers can live in the perimeter is that they have MVP candidate Soulemane Chabi Yo in the middle. The big man has amassed an average of 16.9 points and 14.7 rebounds after the elimination round. Gunners Renzo Subido, Sherwin Concepcion, CJ Cansino, and Rhenz Abando get good looks from the outside because of the attention that Chabi Yo gets in the paint.
What FEU needs to do
Just as they've done throughout the season, the Tamaraws will have to rely on their defense to advance.
If the Tigers thrive on the perimeter, the Tamaraws may have what it takes to slow them down. They limit opponents in the perimeter to just 24.93 points, good for second overall. Another facet they can rely on is their ability to come up with turnovers. They are second in forcing errors with 16.5 per contest.
FEU certainly has the capability to come up with a solid defensive game plan against UST. However, its offense will have to be just as reliable. The Tamaraws are last in racking up points (68.43) which might be worrisome heading into the postseason. Though their 3-point shooting (31.2 percent) and perimeter points (31.21) are among the best in the league, they need to find consistency in hitting their shots. The Tamaraws also need big games from guys like Ken Tuffin (6.57 PPG, 3.64 RPG) and Wendell Comboy (10.43 PPG, 4.86 RPG).
What UST needs to do
Relying heavily on outside shots is a gamble for any team but the Tigers have a safety net in their rebounding. They are second in the league, pulling down 49.9 boards per contest. In addition, their 18.1 second chance points per game trail only Ateneo's average. Their rebounding will be key for them in order to get the victory.
Chabi Yo can get his numbers easily, but the Tigers also need to have strong outings from Abando and Mark Nonoy. Abando averages 12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks, while rookie Nonoy is putting up 10.0 points. If UST's starters can't get it done, their bench has been superb giving the team an average of 34.7 points. Last but not least, a big game from team captain Cansino can also spell the difference for UST.
The Tigers have to play their brand of basketball against the formidable defense of the Tamaraws. They have to knock down their outside shots and be aggressive throughout the game. If they do all that, it will give them a great chance to advance to the next phase of the stepladder.