The bench of Nash Racela’s squad has done marvels for the Tamaraws, as they kept their veteran core fresh for the playoffs. This was greatly emphasized in the first game as the “bench” produced 38 out of the 75 points they scored. Even if this “bench” had seniors Mike Tolomia and Mac Belo coming in, no one from the Tamaraws played 30 minutes in the game, with Tolomia playing a team-high 26 minutes.
On the other hand, the top-seeded University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers played nine players throughout the whole game. The UST bench only produced 18 points, while veterans Karim Abdul and Kevin Ferrer played 36 and 33 minutes respectively. In addition, Ed Daquioag, this season’s iron man in minutes with 33 minutes of game time per outing, shot just 1/7 from the field in 29 minutes of action.
Game Two of the Finals was do-or-die for the Growling Tigers. Unlike in Game One, Coach Bong Dela Cruz went all-out, putting senior Louis Vigil in the starting line-up instead of stretch forward Kent Lao. But the initial result was the same, as UST was down 30-21 to enter halftime. To compound the problem, foreign student-athlete Karim Abdul was already penalized with his third personal foul as the first quarter was just about to end.
Needing someone to man the imposing FEU frontline, third year center Jeepy Faundo stepped forward. Faundo had only played a total of 31 minutes during the season, a third of which came in a blowout victory against the Adamson Soaring Falcons which sealed their top-seed status.
In addition, Kevin Ferrer, the protagonist for UST in Game Three, was in foul trouble for most of the game and had to be relieved of defensive duties to avoid unnecessary fouls. Enter Cebuano freshman Zachary Huang, a rookie who had only seen a total of 14 minutes of playing time.
“Yun lang talaga nasa utak ko,” UST head coach Bong Dela Cruz disclosed to Tiebreaker Times. “Papaluruin ko talaga si Zachary Huang at si Jeepy Faundo para makapagpahinga yung mga veterans sa depensa.”
“Malaking bagay yung nabigay talaga ni Zachy and ni Jeepy. Nung nakapagpahinga sila Kevin lumabas sila ng fourth ng fresh.”
Both Huang and Faundo each played only eight minutes in the game. The 6’6″ center ended the night having grabbed five boards and helped limit Abdul’s playing time to just 27 minutes.
The Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu standout had actually fouled out in his first collegiate finals game. But in the eight minutes he had played, he helped limit and, even frustrate, ace FEU guard Mike Tolomia as he hounded the fifth-year guard right from the inbound. Also, with Huang on the floor, Tolomia was 0/5 with the rookie defending him.
“Sinabi na sa akin ni coach bago nung game na mag-ready kasi last game sobrang outrebounded kami,” Faundo shared. “Ang matutulong ko sa team ay defense lang tsaka rebounds para maayos yugn disadvantage namin.”
Huang also shared the same story. “Binigyan ako ng kumpiyansa ni coach before the game. Sabi niya sa akin, ‘gagamitin ka today. Basta gawin mo yung role mo and maniwala ka lang sa sarili mo.’ Yun yung sabi niya.”
The UST rookie also emphasized that bench production does not only mean offense. “Sabi ni coach sa amin (after Game One), ‘may bench tayo. Kahit hindi mag-score basta may depensa bench production pa rin yun,’” Huang said.
Both Faundo and Huang also added that they always worked hard in practice, since they never knew when their names would be called up. “Sinasabi sa amin lagi nila coach na ‘ready ka lang lagi malay mo sa big game ka magamit,’” Faundo said.
“Ang sarap talaga maglaro. Sobrang thankful talaga ako kay coach kasi umpisa pa lang binigyan na niya ko ng kumpiyansa,” Huang added “Nung nilalabas niya ko dahil opensa, sasabihin niya sa akin ‘ready ka lang. Babalik ka para sa depensa.’”
“Si coach lang talaga nagbibigay ng kumpiyansa sa akin kasi siya lang ang naniniwala sa akin,” a grateful Huang furthered.
Faundo then ended by saying that both his and Zachy’s goal is to give their seniors a championship before they graduate. “Ang gusto lang naman namin nila Zachy ay makatulong at mabigyan ng championship yung mga seniors namin.”
“Sa Game Three talagang magpapakamatay ako para sa rebounds at sa defense. Buwis-buhay sabi nga nila para manalo.”
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