No other program has been as consistent in producing talent and winning titles than the FEU Tamaraws. With 20 championships since 1938, success for the Tamaraws has pretty much been the norm in every decade.
Those titles did not come on their own, as a long list of great FEU players that include the likes of Johnny Abarrientos, Arwind Santos, Terrence Romeo, and RR Pogoy having gone on to the PBA and even to the national team. Every talent that comes out of the Tamaraws’ stable only goes to show that the pipeline will never run dry, with the steady stream of talent largely coming from their backcourt players.
Royce Alforque, LJay Gonzales, Xyrus Torres, and not-so-rookie RJ Abarrientos are the current generation of Tamaraws looking to stake their claim in FEU lore. Alforque, Gonzales, and Torres are the veterans in a relatively young Tamaraw squad looking to go to their ninth straight Final Four, while Abarrientos finally makes his highly-anticipated debut in the Seniors division after waiting it out with a stint with Gilas Pilipinas.
It would be fair to say that FEU lives and dies by its backcourt. A good night from at least one of them certainly gives the Tamaraws a shot to win, but basketball is a team sport, and a concerted effort from the quartet would certainly be a more welcome development for them and bad news for the rest of the UAAP.
On the whole, though, it’s been a one or the other scenario where a good day for one offsets the shortcomings of the others. It’s not uncommon to see FEU’s backcourt’s shot attempts exceeding their point total, but that largely has to do with them having to generate much of the offense, with Emmanuel Ojula largely providing points off second chances.
In previous games, it has mostly been Abarrientos who has been able to make a consistent impact in UAAP Season 84. Through five games, he has averaged 15.2 points per game, highlighted by a career-high 33 points against the NU Bulldogs.
Abarrientos has lived up to the promise as one of the Tamaraws’s main men, but he still remains a rookie, so there will be tough outings that can at times stick out like a sore thumb.
Thankfully, Abarrientos continues to have the green light to shoot and that will certainly help in his development.
In FEU’s 88-74 win over the struggling UE Red Warriors, it was Torres’ turn. Torres, who finished with a career-high 26 points, opened the game with three consecutive 3-pointers, giving the Tamaraws a lead they would never relinquish. He would make five more 3-pointers after that, opening things up for Ojula (18 points and a game-high 19 rebounds) and Gonzales (13 points). The Red Warriors tried to rally back multiple times, but in the end, it just wasn’t their night.
Meanwhile, Gonzales missed FEU’s opening win over the UST Growling Tigers, but has slowly found his footing with each passing game. Alforque has largely struggled so far this season, but with defenses now looking to put their focus on his teammates, the timing may be ripe for a huge game on his end.
On his part, Tamaraws head coach Olsen Racela can always mix lineups at tip-off and mid-game, but he shouldn’t completely rely on the hot hand from the previous game. Key for him will be to maintain production regardless of who is on the floor and he can take solace in how some of his players are heating up.
It has been a decade since the FEU Tamaraws missed the Final Four, albeit due to losing a playoff for the fourth seed, and UAAP Season 84 could be among one of their tougher tests yet. RJ Abarrientos, Royce Alforque, LJay Gonzales, and Xyrus Torres are among the more talented and veteran members of the squad and keeping the streak alive rests on their capable shoulders.