MANILA, Philippines -- A pair of homegrown guards shone brightest for Far Eastern University on Sunday, when the Tamaraws claimed a crucial 72-58 victory over University of Santo Tomas in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament.
Rookie guard Royce Alforque and sophomore LJ Gonzales were instrumental in FEU's strong finish to the game, as the Tamaraws improved to 5-5 in the tournament and earned a share of third place in the league standings.
UST was knocking on the door, 53-51, after back-to-back triples from Rhenz Abando and Mark Nonoy when Alforque took over. The rookie point guard calmly created open looks for Xyrus Torres and Ino Comboy, who drained their shots from deep to restore order. Rey Bienes was his next beneficiary, and the veteran forward nailed three triples in the final three minutes to help the Tams pull away.
"Pinasok lang talaga namin sa utak namin yung sinabi ni coach Olsen (Racela), kasi isang talo pwede na kaming hindi makapasok sa final 4," said Alforque, a former Baby Tamaraw.
Gonzales agreed: "Para sa akin, sinabi ni coach Olsen na lahat ng laban namin, puro do or die na . . . Ginawa naming motivation 'yun para sa amin, para sa team."
Gonzales finished with a team-high 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting, along with 6 rebounds. Alforque had his finest game of the season, with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds.
For FEU assistant coach Denok Miranda, the two youngsters gave a glimpse of what the future hopefully looks like for the Tamaraws.
"Sabihin ko na sa'yo, sila ang future ng team," Miranda said. "So ngayon pa lang, as early as now, kailangan nila ng responsibilidad na ganoon."
"Para in the future, second year, third year, fourth year, hopefully nasa top kami dahil sa kanilang dalawa. Then, the rest is to follow," he added.
Miranda is not at all surprised to see Gonzales and Alforque flourish, having tracked their careers from the juniors division until they went to the seniors. He reveals that the two are among the most hard-working members of the team, to the point where the coaching staff has to keep them from working out too much.
"Pinagbabawalan namin sila kasi sa sobrang extra work, napapagod sa game, nagka-cramps," he explained.
"Buti sa game na 'to, pumutok yung dalawa na sabay."
Teammates since their high school years, Gonzales and Alforque are thrilled to be playing together again for the FEU men's team. Their chemistry on the court is obvious, especially when they play with Torres, another product of the FEU juniors basketball program.
"Palagi kaming magkasama so alam namin yung isa't isa kung paano maglaro po," said Gonzales.
Alforque adde: "Pag nape-pressure pa kami, nag-uusap lang kami, ganito, ganyan. Kaya sanay na kami sa game."
It also helps that the FEU coaching staff is full of great point guards who have taken the pair under their wing. It's not just Miranda -- Gonzales and Alforque also learn from head coach Olsen Racela and assistant coach Johnny Abarrientos.
The two are well aware of how privileged they are to learn from these former court generals.
"Siguro para sa akin, sobrang laking pasalamat ako sa kanila kasi andyan sila para sa amin palagi. Kung ano yung pagkakamali namin, andyan sila para magturo," said Gonzales.
"Kung anong papagawa nila, susundin lang namin. Siyempre, PBA legend na, sino pang gustong umayaw diyan. Syempre, legend na yan kaya sumusunod na lang po kami sa kanila," he added.
Alforque said: "Yung mga point guards namin na mga legend, tapos Johnny A pa. Pinapasok ko sa utak ko na ganito lang pala dapat, maging composed ka lang. Kung mape-pressure ka, hinga ka lang, ganoon."
While Miranda does not hesitate to brand the pair as FEU's future, Alforque and Gonzales seem mostly unbothered by the challenge to become the next great FEU backcourt, to follow in the footsteps of their assistant coaches whom they call legends.
"May pressure, pero . . . Basta, ang sinasabi ng mga coaches sa amin, pakita niyo lang, wag kayong mahiya, maglaro lang kayo para sa FEU, maglaro ka lang para sa pangarap niyo at sa mga family niyo," said Gonzales.
"Wala namang pressure sa amin, kasi 'di naman kami Abarrientos, 'yung mga Denok Miranda," added Alforque. "Andoon lang kami para sumunod sa mga payo nila."
If that is indeed the case, then Miranda's chief advise for the pair is to play with consistency. FEU has been frustratingly inconsistent in Season 82 -- the Tamaraws own victories over University of the Philippines and UST, but they have also lost to National University twice now. If they are to make a run to the Final 4, they have to start playing with more consistency -- and it starts now with their young backcourt.
"Bata pa (sila)," Miranda said of Alforque and Gonzales. "Tapos, alam naman natin pag bata, high and low ang laro. Kailangan maging consistent."
"So, sa practice, dapat ma-develop nila yun. Kung nage-extra work sila, then tuloy-tuloy. Then, manage lang nila 'yung tamang rest. Siyempre smart din dapat sa katawan," he added.
"Matagal pa," Miranda then said. "Sky's the limit yung dalawa for sure."
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