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    0

    The first thing that always catches my eye each time I step out of the elevator on the 9th floor of the Enrique Razon Sports Center and head towards the basketball court are the banners honoring all the past triumphs of the Green Archers and the individuals who have fully exemplified the traits of a Lasallian champion.

    The constant pursuit of excellence. The glory won all in the name of a proud institution. The dedication and long hours of hard work exerted for the larger prize. And the dignified grace in both triumph and defeat. Each unequalled marks of a true Lasallian.

    I find comfort in knowing that all the courage, effort and talents I was given the pleasure of witnessing on any given game day by the Season 77 De La Salle Green Archers were ceaselessly honed under those same banners. Away from the eyes of external scrutiny, nurtured by nothing more than quiet, burning commitment and solidarity.

    These banners do more than serve as hallmarks of past glory and a reminder of the pride we must all carry through any circumstance. They act as constant symbols of a standard to measure up against; a bar set by our alma mater in all disciplines through the rigors of academics, utmost tutelage and a responsibility to give back a hundredfold that which we have been privileged to receive. On a larger scale, it is a burden of the past–of more than a hundred years of storied existence–created by all the captains of industry, beacons of the arts, and pillars in the realm of athletics that came before us. A burden handed and which in turn we all gladly take on.

    Inasmuch as this ensures there is no reason to be blinded by the successes we achieve, we can also find no shame in losing to a worthy opponent and fighting the good fight. So that at the end of the day, it is this relentless pursuit along with all the hard work and dedication that truly define us and set us apart.

    While it is truly a painful time for both the Green Archers and the Lasallian faithful, more than the strong words of encouragement and comfort we find in each other, it is this drive within, that inextinguishable fire in our hearts sparked by the values espoused by our alma mater which allows us to transcend momentary adversity. Always certain that because this fire never goes out, our better days are always ahead of us. Whether in victory or defeat.

    But even before starting to look ahead or find refuge in past success, it is in the present where I can fully appreciate what has been achieved by this La Salle team. While falling short in reaching for the immediate goal set, they remain champions in our eyes. Men amongst boys, giants among men, for always placing character and values ahead of all else.

    It all begins with the management that put this team together, and has given us just the beginnings of an era of La Salle basketball which has already produced prestige to equal the amount of support the rest of us bring to every game. Support that is never without the tinge of bravery, always led by our resourceful and ever potent Animo Squad which concretized on Wednesday beyond the banging of drums it is the heart within that proves most deafening.

    More than providing resources and attending to every need, the distinguished people that make up the management are the visionary architects who first set the culture of this team of substance, and more than any of us are the first ones to voice encouragement and faith especially during moments of struggle.

    By handing the leadership role to Coach Juno Sauler, thereby setting the foundation of a true championship team driven by much more than the pursuit of tangible gains, I know this is a team I can always count on to do us all proud. His relentless pursuit of excellence, which unjustly remains media fodder for those who may not fully understand its context, has been the truest mark of an honorable Lasallian- one whose lead we all find easy to follow even through the most stringent of trials. Harmoniously melding mind and heart, labouring for the perfection of fundamentals that arm his boys for battles waged even outside the confines of the hardcourt, I cannot imagine any other person ably leading us all in our collective chase for continued glory. Even before clinching last year’s title, he already won my unconditional respect.

    A respect I also generously have for Jeron Teng, who has not only evolved into a complete player and true oncourt leader in his third year, but also imbibed the deeper team values imparted by his head coach. Brandishing the key lines from Invictus on the eve of what would be this season’s final game–the same lines wielded by Coach Sauler to motivate his boys the previous season in critical stages of the tournament–Teng’s Lasallian character is largely defined by how he complements his athletic growth with metaphysical nurturing. Definitely not just another basketball superstar settling for what is at hand, but reaching for the greater intangibles lacking in most of his type.

    With the incalculable trust given to Almond Vosotros who played valiantly all the same whether through hot streaks or shooting slumps in each of his playing years, he more than repaid his alma mater in full by having given so much of himself to this team and the community. Thus, the lasting image he leaves us will not be of him sitting on court in tears after Wednesday’s final buzzer, but of all the gutsy shots he has taken for this team with head forever unbowed. Along with the quiet leadership role he admittedly took on at the start of this season. Ensuring that the remaining players understand that honourable burden to be carried and character required before wearing a La Salle jersey.

    The silent dedication and ferocity of Norbert Torres that never waned from first year to last are traits that I also can only admire. Never allowing himself to be counted out, only defined by the hard work and quiet passion he has brought to every game; gradually taking on responsibility and accepting challenges, from his rookie year as one who preferred taking outside shots to this current season, being one of the more consistent contributors safeguarding the team’s brand of inside toughness. Lingering to take one last glance back at the stands as the rest of the team entered the dugout, I know he is one player who has relished every single moment as a Green Archer and lived up to all the larger than life challenges being a member of this team inevitably entails.

    In the same manner, I can only appreciate all the raw energy and passion displayed by Arnold Van Opstal, as he prepares to become one of the prominent leaders of this team. Also relentlessly improving his game every single year, more than his work ethic it is his unbridled energy that is integral to the character of this team. While falling short of expectations this season, he has never lost the trust of his teammates, which he extends as well. Knowing that the team always comes first, I am assured that under the close guidance of Coach Sauler his development will remain on the upswing.

    In Jason Perkins I see not only the emerging anchor of this team because of his athleticism that has necessitated frustrated opponents from last season to always try and counter with more than overly physical play, but an essential, graceful quality of leadership unbecoming of his physique. Always being the first to pick up fallen comrades and heartily encourage slumping teammates, the foundation of this team will remain secure in the same manner he claims his sweet spots on the floor against opponents who have learned they will always have their hands full in more ways than one when he is around.

    Through the steady emergence of Kib Montalbo, gradually sharpening his shot with self-trust in taking each one coupled with defensive toughness, I see traces of Thomas Torres. With the latter choosing to spend his time healing wisely by taking the former under his wing not only with pointers on how to run the offense but also the true grit needed in taking on even the most highly touted scorers on opposing teams; the very same characteristics that endeared the injured point guard to all of us in the first place.

    We all have also remained victors through Yutien Andrada’s resiliency, whose dedication in going through the many elaborate conditioning exercises under the close eye and guiding hand of Assistant Coach Marlon Celis may have largely gone unseen. How these players can continue to give it their all no matter how battered and bruised is a testament to the contributions of that man, the team’s conditioning coach.

    Andrada’s discipline shows that there are more than a few ways to act as a leader on this La Salle team. Never leaving in doubt whether he would resume his career, his comeback in itself has served as inspiration and reminder enough for any other player who may be tempted to count himself out. His legacy will be making sure that undertaking the hard work and all the grueling things behind the scenes should, and always will be, the easy choice to make.

    The heady play of Julian Sargent and Prince Rivero not only give us something to look forward to, but showed us that the future is now. Already owning permanent places in our hearts for courage that belies their combined playing experience. Along with Robert Bolick, Matt Salem, Terence Mustre and Abu Tratter, all as of yet raw talents poised to be the eventual cogs of this La Salle team, fully understanding with no reprehension that serving a greater purpose means something more than filling up the bench and acting as cheerleaders, and in fact lend invaluable strength to the team’s harmony. Because patience and acceptance of roles then don’t at all diminish from the hard work required especially during practice sessions to give the veterans a run for their money.

    Guided by Assistant Coaches Allan Caidic and Jun Limpot, both towers of the game, who provide not only indispensible lessons in honing basketball skills but precise wisdom for these young men duly aspiring for greater things, the core and heart of this team will always be secure, as it has been from day one. And with the resourceful Paolo Sauler rounding out the coaching staff by helming all the game tape preparations for thoroughly dissected plays–an integral part of Coach Juno’s system anchored on discipline and taking utmost care of all the little things including each other–focused and meticulously studied greatness will always remain at an arm’s length for whomever dons the Green and White.

    With the heartbreak and all the basketball plays we can either choose to dissect, analyze or shrug off from Wednesday’s final game, my vision extends just like my reach beyond all that is eventually rendered insubstantial and fleeting—the cheering and the jeering, the euphoria and the agony. And along with my fellow Lasallians who voluntarily labor under the burden of past greatness bestowed by our alma mater, armed with a distinct standard of excellence against which the manner we define our own character and ambitions is set, it becomes quite easy to understand one thing: all that is truly essential, really, remains invisible to the naked eye.

    This is who we are, and who we remain to be. Lasallians striving for uncanny greatness, with the dignity of whatever outcome solely reliant on the honor we manage to keep intact during the pursuit. That is the De La Salle way.

    Maybe the optimal level of desire wasn’t consistently there, the glaring truth now being it takes a different kind of hunger to retain a title. Or maybe the influx of new talent needed a little more time to be harnessed. Or maybe we all rushed to mistakenly underestimate what we though would be a relatively weaker field of competition.

    But with all the harsh, necessary lessons to be learned and taken to heart, it is the little rewards garnered along the way that prove to be the lasting achievements of this particular La Salle team and the community that stands behind it: brotherhood, hard work, courage, faith, and passion.

    If the only way to remain a lasting champion is to have ensured you fought and acted like one, even long after the final buzzer, then for every single one of us I’d say mission accomplished.

    If in my own struggles I am able to see further, if I am capable of digging deeper, and if I continue to reach beyond that of which others may only dare dream, it is largely because I stand on the shoulders of these giants among men. These champions of our institution and our collective pride.

    To the Season 77 De La Salle Green Archers, who have proven beyond doubt to be much greater than 14-strong, I proudly raise my right fist one more time.

    Animo La Salle.

      8

      A little more than 12 hours after the final buzzer sounded and it hasn’t still sinked in. The Season 77 men’s basketball tournament, as far as the De La Salle Green Archers are concerned is over. No more cheers and chants, at least until November comes and the volleyball season starts.

      For the next nine months or so, a great majority of the Lasallian faithful would no longer have to put their index fingers high up in the air when an Archer is shooting a free throw; no more chants of “defense!”, nor witty post-win one-liners from head coach Juno Sauler.

      For the remaining players eligible to play next year, the pre and post-season leagues like the Fil-Oil Flying V and PCCL would definitely help to to try to mend the wounds caused by Mac Belo’s last second dagger, but the pain and damage, both mentally and psychologically will linger for at least a few more days, even weeks.

      Whether you were in the Smart Araneta Coliseum or got stuck in traffic and was only able to catch a portion of the game, the only important moment that will be played endlessly in UAAP highlights was the last 24:4 seconds of the game. 24 eternal seconds that Lasallians will try to move on from for the next days, weeks and months while FEU fans will try to hold on to that Tolomia-Belo two-man shining moment until at least the start of their final series against National U on Saturday.

      Neither team led by more than seven, proof of the quality of the match where the winner plays for the title and the loser goes home and ponders what could have been. Talks of a UAAP dynasty for the defending champions and pre-season favorites DLSU, ended before it even started, but for a coach and team that takes things one practice, one play and one game at a time, this temporary setback is just that, temporary.

      Wishful thinking
      As hindsight is 20/20, there were a few things: decisions, breaks of the game and moments that could have altered the result in favor of the Green Archers. That sideline two-man game has been killing La Salle the whole season. Mike Tolomia hit two booming triples during the teams’ first encounter, then made one hell of a setup for Belo to hit that buzzer three.

      It was a pick-you-poison kind of deal for Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent. Leaving Tolomia on single coverage and the 4th year FEU guard might have been the one to take the game-winner. Instead, the double team coverage was hard with Perkins overcommitting to prevent Tolomia from taking an outside attempt. But the close-out to a wide-open Belo was soft and a split second late, owing to Tolomia blocking out the two La Salle defenders.

      After a season of having 50% or better free throw percentage in all games, the Archers’ inability to convert their freebies in the most crucial game left them wanting. Granted, the Tamaraws were only able to make 10 out of 20 but La Salle was the worse team, hitting just nine from 23 awarded to them. Norbert Torres and Jason could have made things a bit more interesting had they shot all four free throws given to them in the last 2:08 of the game.

      Lastly, two questionable long shots by the Almond Vosotros with plenty of time left on the La Salle shot clock epitomizes the wasted chances La Salle had throughout the game.

      No 2 > 3, but 17 > 21
      It was during Season 70 when La Salle overcame the twice-to-beat advantage of Ateneo to advance to the finals. Despite winning just two games the whole season against three for the Blue Eagles, DLSU won “the games that mattered most”, defied the odds during the semis and again in the finals, sweeping the 14-0 UE Red Warriors for title no. 7.

      History would not be repeated as the Green Archers yielded four games in five matches against FEU this season. Albeit missing league MVPs and top scorers RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo, the Tams’ more balance and disciplined attack was a tough nut to crack for coach Juno and his wards. Ironically, the Tamaraws’ combined winning margin of 17 (77-82, 70-74, 60-65, 67-64) was less than the 21 point lead DLSU had in their lone 94-73 win last September 27.

      Farewell to the seniors
      Personally, I will gladly trade the huge 21-point blowout win last Saturday to play just one more UAAP game, even just one more offensive possession to try to extend the game into overtime. But that’s just me.

      The farewell game to the team’s graduating players: Norbert, Almond and Yutien Andrada might not have ended under ideal circumstances but the they will forever be remembered as student-athletes who wore the Green and White uniform proudly, played the right way and fought gallantly as members of the Green Archers.

      As a community still in shock, the processes of healing and moving on will slowly come. In victory and in defeat, the whole Lasallian community can take pleasure with the fact that we are the greatest fans in the UAAP. We take pride, in equal measure, when our athletic teams win the title or come out short. We cheer our hearts out for our beloved teams but never look down or make silly chants and prejudice remarks to our opponents.

      Overcoming adversity, whether injuries or illness, unfavorable scheduling decisions and other non-basketball related off-court issues is a testament to the team’s desire to lift the trophy for the second year in a row. Faith can only go as far as fate, as the basketball gods denied the Archers’ back-to-back bid.

      With retooling via recruitment and internal development of the remaining Green Archers, La Salle alumni, supporters and fans alike can only look forward to the next UAAP season. As July 2015 could not come soon enough, this loss will serve as fuel and motivation for next year and a reminder to the players and the rest of the team: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

        16

        The same sequence was repeated a couple of times on the giant screen that hung imposingly above the playing court. It was also replayed several times on television, a couple of times to verify if the shot counted, another couple of times featuring game sponsors. In the following days, it’s going to be seen on thousands of laptop, computers, tablets, and smartphones, making the rounds on social media.

        It features the same cast, playing the same roles, in the same setting, in an endless loop.

        Mike Tolomia, guarded by Julian Sargent. Mac Belo waiting on the corner. The clock reading eight, reading seven, reading six, reading five. Tolomia moving towards the basket, trying to elude Sargent. Jason Perkins helping Sargent. Tolomia jumping, then passing at the last moment to an open Belo. Perkins running and putting a hand up in his face. The shot tracing a long, invisible arc before splashing through the hoop, just as the basket’s edges turn an angry red to signal the end of the game.

        Belo being mobbed by his teammates, as they jumped up and down in a circle. Perkins sitting dejectedly on the floor, at the exact spot where Belo made the shot. Almond Vosotros crumpled near the middle of the court, having played his last game as an Archer.

        The prevailing mood over the Lasallian faithful wasn’t anger, wasn’t disappointment. It was shock. It was disbelief. The dream is over, the dynasty halted before it even got off the ground. The Green Archers’ reign atop the UAAP has ended, at least for now.

        It was a thrilling game that featured nine deadlocks and 10 lead changes up until that point. That 11th lead change would prove to be the last, and the most painful.

        Despite a valiant fightback that saw them wresting the lead from their rivals early in the fourth and carrying it for most of the quarter, the Archers yielded to the FEU Tamaraws, 64-67, on a game-winning three-pointer by Belo that found its mark just as the buzzer sounded earlier tonight at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

        The loss prematurely ends the season for the Archers, who won titles in the UAAP and PCCL last year as well as this summer’s Fil-Oil Flying V Preseason Cup and were tagged as favorites entering this season. The Tamaraws, meanwhile, secured their first Finals berth since 2011. They will be facing the NU Bulldogs, who earlier eliminated Ateneo, in the Finals, which will start this Saturday, October 4.

        A three-pointer by Belo, who finished with 23 points and eight boards, gave the Tamaraws a 64-61 lead with only 1:05 remaining in the game. La Salle, however, was not yet done, as Perkins made one of two from the line to cut the lead to two. After an empty FEU possession, the Archers found themselves on a five-on-four fastbreak and Jeron Teng found Norbert Torres for an easy basket that tied the count at 64 and set up the game’s thrilling, albeit heartbreaking finish.

        With the Tams leading by four entering the fourth, Teng made his presence felt early in the payoff period, scoring on a lay-up, finding rookie Prince Rivero for a bucket, and nailing a jumper that gave La Salle its first lead since early in the contest, 53-51.

        Belo and Tolomia, however, would answer with free throws and a lay-up, respectively, to give FEU the lead. Arnold Van Opstal scored inside for La Salle before Julian Sargent nailed the second of his two three-pointers to give the Archers a 59-55 lead.  But this was when Belo decided to put his team on his shoulders, scoring four points for the Tamaraws to knot the count at 59 with only 3:02 left.

        Norbert Torres missed a couple of free throws but Perkins scored on a basket to give La Salle its last lead, 61-59, with a minute and 54 left. Achie Iñigo, however, scored on a floater to forge the game’s second-to-last deadlock.

        It was Perkins and Rivero who bannered the Archers in the third period, combining for seven of La Salle’s ten points in the quarter. Belo and Anthony Hargrove, however, combined to score seven of FEU’s nine in the period, as they preserved a slim 51-47 lead heading into the fourth.

        Entering the second period with a seven-point deficit, La Salle strung together a 13-2 run to lead by as much as 30-26 with 7:04 left in the second, after a triple by Sargent. FEU, however, countered with a 10-2 blitz of their own, seven of which came from Tolomia, to help them restore a four-point lead. Perkins and Van Opstal scored again for La Salle as they tied the game again at 36, but a Belo triple and an and-one basket by Mon Jose allowed the Tamaraws to take a 42-37 lead at the turn.

        Teng was assertive early in the game for the Archers, pouring nine of his 13 in the first ten minutes, but eight different players scored in the first for FEU as they took a 24-17 lead after one.

        Teng led the Archers with 13 points, four rebounds, and six assists, while Perkins finished with a double-double of 12 points and 12 boards, while also adding two assists. Arnold Van Opsal also finished in double-figures, scoring 11 markers and grabbing five rebounds. Aside from Vosotros, Norbert Torres and Yutien Andrada likewise played their last games donning the Green-and-White.

        Backstopping Belo is Tolomia, who finished with 14 points, six assists, and a rebound, while Roger Pogoy finished with eight points and a team-high 11 boards.

        Overall, the Archers outrebounded the Tamaraws, 44-42, including a 17-13 edge on the offensive glass. Both teams also shot 40% from the floor, shooting well from the two-point area but struggling from the free-throw line, with FEU making only 10 of 20 attempts from the line and La Salle canning only nine of their 23 charities. FEU also had more assists, 17-15, and capitalized on the Archers’ 15 turnovers by scoring 16 turnover points, compared to ten by La Salle.

        FEU- 67- Belo-23, Tolomia-14, Pogoy-8, Iñigo-5, Jose-3, Cruz-3, Tamsi-3, Escoto, Ru.-2, Ugsang-0, Escoto, Ri.-0, Dennison-0, Lee Yu-0

        La Salle- 64- Teng-13, Perkins-12, Van Opstal-11, Sargent-8, Torres, N.-7, Rivero-7, Vosotros-6, Montalbo-0, Torres, T.-0, Bolick-0

        Quarterscores: 24-17, 42-37, 51-47, 67-64

          2

          On Wednesday, the Green Archers will try to accomplish what they did back in 2007.  That is to say that beating a team twice whole season long is way meaningful than getting beat by the same team thrice in the same season.  As we all know back in that championship run seven years ago, the Green Archers have defeated the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles only twice that season but it was all the “when it mattered most” games en route to that spectacular championship season by defeating the mighty University of the East Red Warriors, a team that I personally consider a PBA D-League team masquerading as a UAAP team that time.

          After seeing their dominating performance last Saturday, I cannot blame the whole De La Salle community to be hopeful and positive that this “2 > 3″ slogan will definitely be possible on Wednesday.  To simply put it, all I can say right now is that if this team is fully focused, everything is possible and sky is the limit.  Aside from the 68-56 victory over the Bulldogs last September 13, last Saturday’s victory was one of those matches wherein the Green Archers showed that championship-caliber quality that everyone expected to see this season, both La Salle supporters and those from outside looking in combined.

          Without further ado, here are the talking points that I like to discuss going into this second sudden death game for the Green Archers in the span of four days (in no order of importance, I will put them as I remember them through this writing):

          FEU’s Mental State:
          I think for the first time this season, this is the only FEU defeat wherein they were matched and overplayed wire to wire.  This is also the first time this season that FEU will enter into a game wherein they need to fight for their own lives so the question for me here is how FEU will come out on Wednesday.  Will they come out a tougher team, raring to bounce back after that big defeat to a team I think FEU considered as a team they can beat anytime?  Or will that big defeat leave a huge scar on FEU’s chests and put doubts into their minds that this will be not an easy cake to take on Wednesday?

          I honestly do not know at this point how FEU will show up on Wednesday.  Historically, FEU’s mental toughness has been in question always not just this season but in the past seasons as well when it comes to big games but definitely, Coach Nash Racela has something up in his sleeve ready to turn up and lift the spirits of his wards on Wednesday but I am also confident that our coaching staff will come up prepared also so this will be a good match to see as both teams fight it out for the last finals spot.

          Game Adjustments:
          Last Saturday, I think it was our turn to bring in the adjustments that left FEU thinking how to adjust defensively.  One glaring thing for me was our quickness to attack the basket and not let FEU settle and wait for their defense to set up.  Our big guys knew they have the height advantage and took it to the teeth of FEU’s big guys to battle them also physically.  The team was not tentative as far as decision-making is concerned on the offensive end.  The ball movement was superb, resulting to a 19-10 assist advantage for DLSU.  This was a far cry in our past three games against FEU wherein we allow FEU to settle their help defense inside the paint.

          Another thing that I liked about that win last Saturday was the perimeter guys did not hesitate to throw up those threes whenever they are open.  Julian Sargent started it in the first quarter and then Almond continued it up until the end of the game.  Personally, I am confident with these guys that they can shoot from way deep, it was just about shooting it with confidence and I can, maybe correlate it with how the team approach it coming into the free throw line.  I would like to see the same on Wednesday as those perimeter points definitely help out a lot, forcing FEU to play honest defense all over the court from side to side, not just literally packing the paint with three players, not just to help out defensively on our post plays, but also be ready to get those rebounds.

          Another question for me is if FEU will run more plays on Mike Tolomia on Wednesday.  Last Saturday, FEU literally rode on the shoulders of Mark Belo, which became productive as he scored a career-high I think of 32 points but the good thing there was Tolomia only scored 7 points and La Salle’s defense forced him to just shot for 2/14 from the field (2/10 from way deep).  Personally, I still believe that Mike Tolomia is FEU’s most dangerous player because he cannot just wax hot from anywhere in the court, but also he can make his teammates good as well as he is FEU’s best passer (3.3 apg this season).

          In every game against DLSU this season, FEU normally goes to Mark Belo because they think he is always a mismatch to La Salle’s power forwards and centers.  As you can see, whenever Belo has the ball, he always has that isolation play wherein he attacks La Salle’s defenders at will, resulting to a basket or free throws since he gets fouls from it but last Saturday, our coaching staff did a good job of mixing things up on the defensive end, putting different defenders on Belo, although he scored a lot, it took away the rhythm of the other FEU players on the offensive end.  Normally, FEU is averaging 15 assists a game this season but last Saturday, they were down to just 10 assists, La Salle taking away possibly 10 points at the minimum was big in this game.

          I would also like to see the team playing superb defense, not allowing FEU to make any inside penetrations to fuel their offense.  This is another area where the Green Archers played very well last Saturday.  It did not allow the Tamaraws to move the ball as they normally would.  It resulted to most FEU players taking jumpers off the pick and roll rather than outplaying their La Salle counterparts off the dribble making the Green Archers move from side to side.  Last Saturday, it was DLSU who made FEU move from side to side.  In short, FEU was beaten in their own game and I would like to see how FEU will adjust on the defensive end to address that issue.  As for the Green Archers, for as long as they keep the ball moving and stay aggressive whenever they attack, I think they will get the better end of the calls since DLSU really loves to take it to the paint all the time.

          Another end product of DLSU not allowing FEU to attack the paint at will was the bench points category.  FEU is averaging 28 bench points per game but last Saturday, FEU’s bench only scored 22 and the big point here is Pogoy was only limited to just 2 points.  Comparing it to DLSU, the Green Archers scored 37 bench points with Norbert and Julian leading the charge, combining for 29 of those 37 bench points for the Green Archers.  To make it simple, the ball rotation on both teams really affected this game.  La Salle’s ball rotation allowed them to get the ball to the guys in scoring position faster and the players who get the catch at those positions attack right away, resulting to either a basket, a foul, or both in some cases.

          With all these things in mind, I think the four days gap from last Saturday’s game to Wednesday’s game will involve at lot of adjustments for both teams on both ends of the floor.  FEU has to find a way to get their ball movement going, particularly on how to penetrate and get inside DLSU’s defense.  As for the Green Archers, decision-making will be the key on Wednesday’s game on both ends of the floor still.  If they bring that same aggressiveness on the offensive end and keep the Tamaraws on their toes, the Green Archers will have a very good chance of winning that ball game.  La Salle cannot afford to be tentative offensively since FEU likes to gang it up defensively then run the break for easy baskets.  La Salle still sticks to their inside-outside offensive patterns but this time around, it seemed that the Green Archers did not play afraid to the Tamaraws’ inside defense, battling them toe to toe, strength for strength, just like the way it should be since the Green Archers are the taller team.

          Expectations:
          Personally, I expect Wednesday’s game to be a grit and grind one.  I do not see FEU giving up this early and for sure Tolomia will bounce back, just like what Jeron did for the Green Archers last Saturday.  I also see both guys (Tolomia and Teng) to lead their respective charges not just in the intangibles category but also stats-wise so I would like to stress it on this writing that the game on Wednesday will be a battle of other players stepping up to the plate.  Pogoy will be an x-factor for the Tamaraws just like how Jason, Norbert, and Julian will be for the Green Archers.

          I am not saying for La Salle, those three (Jason, Norbert, and Julian) are just the reliable other scorers but I would also like to see the other guys explode like Kib, Thomas, and especially Arnold (to help tenderize those FEU front men and make them even a smaller team) to contribute on Wednesday.  Last Saturday’s win was an all-around effort from everyone and the team surely knows that a repeat performance will be necessary to barge into the finals and give themselves a chance to defend the championship.  Actually, I cannot say sit back and relax at this point.  I’d rather say, help support the team on Wednesday and more importantly, pray hard that the team will come out in tip-top fighting form just like what we saw that Saturday.

          I will say this once again, whatever happens to this team on Wednesday, I will always be behind them all the way.  I hope all La Sallians also carry the same attitude and fervor not just on Wednesday but all the time.

            1

            La Salle 80
            FEU 81

            The reign of the De La Salle Lady Archers has ended. A campaign they began as defending champions concludes with National and Far Eastern, finalists from the previous two seasons, fighting over a lost crown.

            In this one game was an entire season, the strong start and faltering finish, the early hope and late heartbreak. The only Final Four team without a player in the Mythical Five, the Lady Archers had to build a title defence around containment, execution, unselfish play, and perimeter shooting. They finished the season with league bests in assists, turnovers, and perimeter percentages. But three of four would not be enough. In the payoff period of each of their last four games, they lacked an extra defensive gear, and thus was the title lost – in the semi-finals, by one point in overtime.

            There was unfinished business between the old rivals. FEU had ousted the Lady Archers in the Final Four in Seasons 73 and 74, and defeated them in the Season 75 Finals. Last year’s championship was cathartic, but won against an emergent and now dominant NU, as the Lady Tamaraws were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player. And now ousted anew by the same tormentors despite holding a twice-to-beat advantage, a graduating batch of six, perhaps seven, Lady Archers end their last playing year with plenty to think – and drink – about.

            But what a farewell it was. Both teams arrived with a sense of occasion. NU have bludgeoned teams this season but La Salle versus FEU have produced the most absorbing matches. Styles make fights and they did here: the Lady Archers using Miller Ong’s playmaking (nine assists in her final game) to get a balanced attack going early, and FEU going inside to Claire Castro and April Siat. La Salle’s interior defence held for the first ten minutes until a fusillade of perimeter shots from Trisha Piatos and Cass Santos in the second quarter opened up a seven-point lead.

            The Lady Archers carried on brightly after the break and a third straight invitation to the Finals seemed in the post when Santos’ high-flipped reverse swished straight down into the net to give La Salle its largest lead at 11. But bigger leads have been surrendered between these two. The Lady Tamaraws made up some ground with shots from Castro and Jacqueline Tanaman, slowly but methodically closing the deficit to four before Jonah Melendres hit a long jumper at the third quarter buzzer to stop FEU’s charge. She would add another at the start of the fourth, and Piatos would fire a triple; the scoreline at that point read DLSU 55 48 FEU.

            Then with eight minutes left in the final period, the Lady Tamaraws remembered how to play La Salle. Castro powered inside for two then closed out the high post to challenge Santos’ perimeter shots on the other end. Ana Valenzona hit a three to bring FEU to within a single basket; Siat and Tanaman pushed them over the threshold 55-57 before Piatos buried what would be her last triple to take back the lead for La Salle. Alyanna Ong would score the Lady Archers’ next seven points, but La Salle were flagging on the defensive end, allowing Siat, also on her final year, to awaken from a first half in which she had scored a mere two points. FEU clogged the lane and La Salle shot blanks from the outside, allowing Castro and Siat to erase a four-point deficit with forty seconds to go and send the contest into overtime.

            The extra period was five minutes of big shots. La Salle bet on the outside and but left themselves a porous interior. Alyanna Ong hit consecutive open triples as FEU sagged into the paint, but the Lady Archers’ single coverage could not stop Siat, Castro and Tanaman on the inside. With under a minute to go, Miller Ong grabbed a rebound off a Siat miss, passed to Piatos whose bullet threaded two Tamaraws to find Claro at pace for a fastbreak layup, a play worthy of winning any series. But Siat came off FEU’s final timeout to hit a long jumper from the left to tie the game yet again.

            With half a minute to go, Valenzona sent Piatos to the line. The second free throw was short. Siat claimed the rebound, jogged into the lane, and with a final quick step to the left, banked a high shot over Alyanna Ong’s outstretched arms. FEU’s biggest lead all game? Two points. Their lead with nine seconds left: one.

            Piatos pushed the champions upcourt for a final go, drew a double team then fed #5 in the left corner. But this time there would be no Camille Claro semi-final special. The three-point attempt looped a foot short of the rim against a challenge, and team captain Miller Ong, trying to save the ball and La Salle’s season one last time, crashed into an amateur photog behind the sideline hoarding as the buzzer sounded. “I have loved watching you play,” he whispered to her.

            Player of the game: Thirty-four minutes fighting off bigger defenders, finding screens, pressing the backcourt, pushing the tempo. On her farewell game before applying to medical school to fulfill a daughter’s promise: five three-pointers, five assists, zero turnovers. A final play, passing the ball – the torch – to sophomore Camille Claro, who like her scored 18. Claro has the look of a proper La Salle guard, and a taste for the big games. But that is talk for another year. For now, stow the camera, pour out a double, stop all the clocks. Trisha Piatos has left the building.

              1

              I don’t know for certain if in between poring through the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Viktor Frankl, or getting giddy about film masterpieces such as Cinema Paradiso, Coach Juno Sauler has read Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, wherein Isiah Thomas reveals the secret of basketball to be more than just about basketball.

              But every time I’ve seen this La Salle team execute a 40-minute master class in championship-caliber hoops, it sure seems like Coach Sauler keeps that secret– whose foundation lies in everything that weaves a team together through thick and thin to keep it focused and hungry–neatly folded right in his back pocket.

              During Saturday’s win over the FEU Tamaraws to force a knockout game for a finals berth, the ball movement that remained quick and purposeful the entire game; the disciplined floor spacing that allowed aggressive post moves, open shooters or clear lanes for off the dribble baskets; the decisive movement off the ball; and the team rebounding and defense anchored on communication and judicious help all may have seemed like a welcome relief to the faint of heart but is nothing really new to a team whose every nuance has been predicated on solidarity from day one.

              Being fortunate to have seen up close the inner workings of this team a handful of times, right after big wins or during stretches when the faith of its community seems fragile, there may have been slight changes in expression and body language due to frustration and momentary lapses but the collective movement towards a common purpose has never been deterred.

              As much as every single member of this unit loves playing the game, they love playing it with each other. It should be no surprise for a team with a head coach whose very first move was to house them all together. And because there is not an ounce of energy nor a single movement or breath wasted on the frivolous for this La Salle team, the payoff is always just the icing on the cake.

              Winning the title the first time was simply proving to the rest of us that this system worked. Long before the temporary struggles of last year’s first round ensued, every single player was on board even before stepping onto the hard court, with even both Jeron Teng and Almond Vosotros later exuding gratitude and heaving praises on a system that seemed nonexistent to most with then a 3-4 record and a string of meltdown games. All ancient history by now, it seems.

              But it’s been no different this year, despite all the subpar games that fell way below our lofty expectations and overbearing anticipation for a powerhouse team to dominate and make us all champions once again, only this time in a more comfortable manner. As always, marching to their own unique beat orchestrated by a coach who is equal parts mentor and brother-in-arms, there has never been any need to rise above–or hide underneath–all the hype and noise generated externally.

              Because they’ve all never bothered to pretend to be anything they’re not: never athletic demigods thriving on attention, but simply blessed individuals given the rare opportunity to represent a revered institution with a proud community. Nothing more, nothing less.

              When we see Jeron Teng’s continuous evolution as a complete player and a relentless offensive machine–along with his development as a leader much more than a celebrity who could have just been content with the warm fuzzy glow of the spotlight to smugly shrug off all criticism–I can see a few of the roots of this maturation in a conversation between him and Coach Sauler held in the MOA arena locker room on the day before last year’s title-clinching game regarding a recently held preseason NBA match. Just two fans of the game on equal footing sharing the love.

              Or when we see even increased trust and constant playing minutes given to an obviously struggling and frustrated Arnold Van Opstal–even during crucial stretches of a knockout game-the exact same one given to a previously slumping Vosotros—it’s quite clear that freely giving that trust is its own reward, so much more than the payoff of having last year’s most improved player nearly matching the rebounding output of FEU’s starting frontline.

              With head coach and quirky center turning into fanboys talking about the availability of tickets to a much anticipated event featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers shortly after bagging last year’s PCCL title, it’s really the unshakeable bonds created within this team that is the greatest prize, with titles just inevitable bonuses picked up along the way.

              Pressure-packed games expectedly bring out one’s true character. While I continue to believe that below the belt hit on Teng or all the Tamaraws suddenly pulling each other away animatedly to prevent any helping hand for any Lasallian momentarily down on the floor were all just products of frustration and incidental loss of composure, the Green Archers seem to thrive on adversity and never use it as an excuse. Always only an opportunity to let their true character shine.

              And it’s a type of character founded on all the simple things that lie just beyond the fringes of statistical sheets or equations. Because while we can rightfully churn out numbers for player efficiencies per predetermined number of minutes played, or proportion of free throws taken to number of bizarre fouls committed when the game is clearly out of reach, there are no numbers to fully give justice to the amount of trust easily handed to a player struggling all season; density of joy showered upon this season’s crowd favorite finally getting his first point of his UAAP career; or fierceness of game face such as that of the usually stoic Vosotros, raising his hands towards the Lasallian faithful in attendance after nailing his third three-pointer of the game.

              Faith is also one of those ethereal things that is always hard to measure, or stack up against what every other team and community has. All I know is there is something greater than what transpires on the hard court which binds both this team and the zealous community it represents. And it never remains otherworldy or elusive, constantly enacted in the arena and beyond.

              From Assistant Coach Allan Caidic giving me a confident, bemused look as if I committed blasphemy by trepidly asking about the team’s mood in a still generally empty arena during one of our fortuitous encounters; or younger Sauler brother (and reportedly better basketball player) Nino assuredly replying as we were filing in that this definitely wouldn’t be the last game of these champions we were about to witness, I can always count on one thing.

              With passion forged by many years of past glory and struggle, and faith nurtured and polished off with a dignified quality on 2401 Taft Avenue, our footing remains secure all the same whether in triumph or defeat.

              Certifying that on any given game day, when the Green Archers hold court, from the bench to the courtside seats and way up to the vertigo-inducing sections, if you’re clad in Green and White, there will always be more than enough faith and love to go around.