Racela, Tamaraws not looking past Tigers

Once written off as a Final Four contender, the Far Eastern U Tamaraws are headed into the postseason in the UAAP basketball tournament with momentum after a strong finish to the elimination round.

But coach Olsen Racela warned his troops from getting ahead of themselves with a do-or-die game against University of Santo Tomas on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“I’m not looking too far ahead,” Racela told the Inquirer over the phone during a break in training on Saturday. “We’re happy to be back in the Final Four, but we can’t be contented.”

Racela took over the coaching reins in 2017 and has helped Far Eastern extend its Final Four appearances to seven seasons, the longest active streak in the UAAP.

The former PBA great, however, has never reached the UAAP finals, something which younger brother, Nash, whom Olsen replaced, did after steering the Tamaraws to their last crown in 2015.

This season is already a rewarding one in itself as far as Olsen is concerned, as the Tamaraws were actually outsiders to make the Final Four after losing four of their first six games.

Next to unbeaten Eagles, however, the Tamaraws will come into the stepladder semifinals as the hottest team with victories in seven of their last nine games.

Racela attributed their resurgence to their defense and the emergence of sweet-shooting forward Ken Tuffin as an additional weapon with his three-point bombs.

“It’s not a coincidence that when Ken (Tuffin got his game going, we started our winning streak,” Racela said.

“We really need contributions from our veterans because this is a young team. I wasn’t expecting to rely so much on my younger players because I really wanted to integrate them slowly, that’s why it’s a blessing for us to have our veterans playing well.”

Both UST and FEU split their elimination-round games with the Tamaraws winning their last meeting, 72-58, on Oct. 14 at MOA Arena.

Racela, however, admits no team has a clear advantage in their matchup against the Tigers.

Whoever wins this game will advance to face No. 2 University of the Philippines, but would need to beat the Maroons two straight times to advance.

“We’re expecting a tight game that will boil down to execution in the endgame,” Racela said.

“We’re preparing for that. We don’t expect a blowout because each team will value every possession because this is already the Final Four.”

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