^ This is how it was for De La Salle in UAAP Season 81.

It came down to a knockout game between them and FEU to decide which of them would face eventual champion Ateneo in the Final 4.

Losing their beefy 6-8 import for 12 games was just too telling a blow, and having a rookie head coach in Louie Gonzalez didn't help.

"Ikaw ba naman mawalan ng magaling na 6-8 siguro naman mahirapan ka din," said Mr Libog, over our usual weekend lunch, a few days after Taane Samuel suffered a Jones Fracture in their first game and was declared out for several weeks.

Turns out there was a heck of a silver lining to that, as Justin Baltazar, another 6-8 big man, went on to have a career season, capped with making the Mythical 5.

"Magaling naman talaga si Baltazar," Mr Libog asserted. "Kung sa UST or UE nagpunta 'yan baka nag-ROY pa nga 'yan, baka second or third time na niya sa Mythical 5."

The writing on the wall however became clear and unequivocal when it turned out the Final 4 cast was made up of the same teams La Salle couldn't beat or had a hard time with in the elimination rounds.

"Coincidence ba na 'yung Top 4 teams sila din 'yung mga tumalo sa La Salle? Coincidence ba na first time yata in 10 years na na-season sweep ng U.P. ang La Salle," asked Mr Libog, rhetorically I gathered.

"Huwag na nga 'yung Ateneo, siempre bigay na natin 'yon, unfair din naman na may (Angelo) Kouame kalaban mo tapos ikaw nabawasan ka pa ng Taane. Pero FEU, Adamson, lalo na U.P., ganun-ganun lang ba na mas magaling silang lahat sa La Salle? Parang may mali eh..." he continued to muse.

"Meron kang Baltazar, (Leonard) Santillan, even (Brandon) Bates isn't bad, better than AVO (former Green Archer Arnold Van Opstal), siguro naman dapat kaya mo sina (Arvin) Tolentino, sina (Sean) Manganti, sina (Juan) Gomez de Liano," he continued.

It takes more than size and skill to win a championship said I.

"Yeah right," he sniggered.

So how did La Salle not make the Final 4?

"Their perimeter is weak: Aljun (Melecio) is a mad bomber, (Andrei) Caracut never really panned out, Kib (Montalbo) is not a real point guard," he explained. "So sino magbibigay ng bola sa big men nila? Kahit pa gano kagaling mga big men mo, someone has to get the ball to them kasi hindi naman Kevin Durant ang mga 'yan, someone has to get them the ball, like Matt (Nieto) to Kouame."

"Kasalanan ba ni Gonzalez na hindi mabigyan ng bola big men niya? Baka naman hindi talaga kasi ganun mga guards niya. None of their guards grew up as creators or facilitators, unlike Matt."

Compelling, but perhaps not complete as an explanation.

Gonzalez is not exactly a big name in coaching, but surely he must know his basketball, as he has been around for a while.

"Ayan ka na naman. Coach na naman? Ano ba magagawa ng coach pag hindi gumana players?" Mr Libog continued. "Sunod na sasabihin mo, genius na naman si Tab (Baldwin) ninyo, haha!"

And so there we have it.

What's next for them then?

"When Taane comes back and they have (Tyus) Hill, (Jordan) Bartlett, and (Kurt) Lojera onboard ibang team na 'yan, guaranteed."

With that he picked up the check.