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    1

    Lack of mental focus and consistency have been blamed for the head-scratching performances of the De La Salle Green Archers. Their previous 70-74 loss to the FEU Tamaraws and uninspired win against the winless Adamson Soaring Falcons are not good signs especially heading into the crucial phase of the tournament.

    No Lasallian supporter would be faulted for expecting a higher winning margin, but with the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four still up for grabs, the 66-57 victory was nonetheless just as important.

    It might be mere coincidence that this two-game dilemma happened in the thick of finals week of the first trimestral. You can insert all education-related jokes about athletes you want, but these “student-athletes”, from August 26 to September 2 to be precise, do have to balance their studies, exams and projects with the rigors of the UAAP and defending the basketball title.

    The Archers started the game wanting in energy, settling for jumpers instead of attacking the paint against a very young Adamson squad. A quick 18-3 run turned an early 3-5 deficit into a huge 23-8 lead at the end for the first quarter. All La Salle starters contributed at least one field goal each with Jeron Teng leading the scoring with six while Almond Vosotros had five.

    The next three quarters can be characterized like a roller-coaster with the hustle and energy of the Green and White squad indirectly proportional to the frustrations and emotions that the La Salle faithful had to endure.

    After scoring 23 points with relative ease in the opening frame, La Salle went blank in the next period scoring only three field goals and four free throws while giving up 19 points to the Falcons.

    The Green Archers bounced back after the intermission, determined to pull away from a nothing-to-lose Adamson squad. La Salle had four and-one opportunities but only managed to convert one of those bonus free throws to head into the fourth leading, 55-43.

    The Falcons unleashed one last rally, trimming the DLSU lead 59-51 before the La Salle veterans, Teng, Vosotros and Jason Perkins combined for seven points to seal the Archer’s season sweep of Adamson Falcons.

    Perkins scored 13 of his total 16 points in the second half to go along with the same number of rebounds. Jeron tallied 15 points, eight boards and six assists while Almond was the only other double-digit scorer with 12.

    The race to the Final Four is heating up and for the Taft-based squad, there are no more easy games.

    The Good
    A win is a win is a win. No matter how you look at it, the DLSU win coupled with National University’s loss against University of the East meant that La Salle now shares the 2nd to 3rd spot with the Ateneo Blue Eagles with 8-3 records. Not all wins in a season can be glamorous or have blowout margins. La Salle’s eighth win is a step into the right direction going into the final three games of the elimination round.

    The 19 turnovers were glaring factors in La Salle’s second round loss versus the FEU Tamaraws. Compared to the 18 turnovers committed by the team during first round match-up, DLSU was able to limit its errors to 14 while at the same time maximized the opportunity for easy baskets with 12 points off Adamson turnovers.

    Despite slightly losing the rebounding battle 50-49, DLSU had a huge 17-2 advantage in second chance points allowing the team to dominate the inside battle despite making only one three-point attempt.

    The Bad
    Speaking of the rainbow country, the Green Archers seem to have solved their shooting woes during their past six games. Even in the team’s loss against FEU, our shooters were able to convert five from 22 attempts.

    Lack of patience and execution led to the team taking 17 attempts while making only one. La Salle’s unbalanced offense made scoring in the post harder with Adamson using the zone to pack the paint, giving less space for Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal and Jason Perkins to operate.

    AVO, despite scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds was particularly frustrated by Adamson’s defense, picking-up three offensive fouls limiting his playing time to 17 minutes.

    And the Worrying
    Unlike in the first matchup, Coach Juno Sauler was not able to use his bench players because of the upset threat of the Soaring Falcons. Of the 13 non-starter points, excluding Arnold’s production, only Julian Sargent and Robert Bolick scored three points a piece.

    After the return of AVO in the line-up against FEU, the contribution of rookie Prince Rivero is nowhere to be found. The former NCAA juniors MVP has scored two points in 11 combined minutes this past two games. Instead playing big all the time, maybe it’s time to mix things up by playing small ball. Take advantage of Rivero’s heft and post game against smaller forwards.

    Four of the La Salle starting five played more than 30 minutes. Save for Kib Montalbo’s four points in 27 minutes, Jeron, Almond, Jason and Norbert accounted for 75% of the total offense and 34 of the total 49 rebounds. It is a good thing that out next match-up takes place in six days as the break is much needed luxury to prepare for the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.

    Rested bodies with clear and focused minds. The race to the Final Four is heating up and for the Taft-based squad, there are no more easy games. No win is guaranteed especially with their all of their opponents also looking to enter the tournament playoffs. The Lasallian community hopes that once the final papers, examinations and course grades are settled, the real Green Archers will show up. Armed and ready to win games and grab the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. Animo La Salle!

      0

      La Salle 78
      UE 52

      Afterwards, Coach Tyrone Bautista could only shake his head. Part enjoyment from Trisha Piatos’ shooting exhibition (“Twenty in 17 – mas marami pang points sa minutes”), part relief. The last time these two sides met, it was an ill-tempered affair that left soph**ore point guard Camille Claro with a concussion that took her two full games to recover from.

      This time, the game was full of incident, but thankfully for spectators, not for physios. Tweaks to the starting lineup in the second round have given the Lady Archers a firmer grip on the early minutes of games. Miller Ong went to work quickly, throwing no-look nosebreakers, her talent to dominate without scoring again on full parade. Her passes set up rookies Jamie Roxas and Martina Lumba as La Salle raced to an 18-10 lead and never looked back. Ong would end up with seven assists and Roxas nine points and seven rebounds in what has so far been her best game, one in which she had to step in for senior Cass Santos who was at her thesis proposal defence.

      Pressure and vigilance would keep the UE Amazons off rhythm and hold them to 20 percent shooting at the half, allowing them to complete only three assists despite matching La Salle in rebounding and turnovers. In contrast, eleven Lady Archers would be on the scoresheet by the break, with La Salle’s 13 first-half assists distributed across seven players.

      Both teams would throw the shackles off in the third quarter as the game erupted in a riot of turnovers and shots from long range. For UE there was Danice Llosala who would score nine out of her team’s 17 in that period, taking some of the offensive load off teammate Eunique Chan. On a normal day, that kind of output might have been enough to close the gap and trigger a late-game run. But instead La Salle answered with its own 27-point quarter and enjoyed its largest lead, as Piatos cluster-bombed the coliseum, going six-of-eight from three-point range on the day. Wave after wave of attacks would follow as Chai Vergara and Niky Scott would also hit triples to complement Fretzie Oyao’s catch-and-shoot routine in the paint. And then the long-awaited Fatality: a Ria Pineda special (jumpshot and-one plus staredown in front of her coach) that left more than a few courtside with wide dumb grins.

      In the end, the Lady Archers settled for a winning margin of 26. Three more assignments remain in the second round, against UP, FEU, and the last against NU, possibly to determine whether a Final Four will be played at all. Such is the state of combat this season, as favourites National University remain undefeated and rampant. Despite today’s display, La Salle search for still more firepower.

      Player of the game: A good basketball photo: face in focus, ball sharp in frame, no chopped limbs, no droopy eyes, no awkward positions, no unflattering expressions. The right moment written in light, caught on a sensor.

      There are no good photos of Trisha Piatos shooting. You can push ISOs, master AI Servo and back-button focusing, go nuts on burst mode, even cheat afterwards with smart sharpening. But the girl is too damn quick.

        1

        The De La Salle Green Archers quickly made up for their loss to the FEU Tamaraws by defeating the Adamson Soaring Falcons, 66-57, on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

        It was a sloppy win for La Salle, which surrendered a 23-8 lead after the first quarter as the Falcons got within three at one point in the third period.

        Jason Perkins, who hit key baskets to put DLSU ahead for good in the final minutes, finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds.

        Jeron Teng, meanwhile, put up an all-around effort by tallying 15 markers, 8 boards, and 6 assists. Almond Vosotros, who was 0-of-7 from downtown, put up 12 points.

        DLSU, as a team, finished with just one 3-ball after taking 17 attempts.

        The Green Archers also shot just 34% from the field, while making only 64% of their free throws but did haul down 49 rebounds.

        Don Trollano came up with 26 points for the Soaring Falcons, which was a career high.

        DLSU will look to improve to 9-3 against UST, whom they face on September 6, Saturday.

        La Salle’s win against Adamson puts them in a tie with Ateneo for the second seed in the league standings, with NU possibly joining them after this afternoon’s later game.

        Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres combined for 13 points, while Kib Montalbo and Julian Sargent registered four and three, respectively.

        The scores:

        DLSU (66) – Perkins 16, Teng 15, Vosotros 12, Van Opstal 7, N. Torres 6, Montalbo 4, Sargent 3, Bolick 3, Rivero 0.

        AdU (57) – Trollano 26, Rios 11, Ochea 6, Nalos 5, Monteclaro 4, Aquino 3, Barrera 0, Villanueva 0, Baytan 0, Polican 0, Inigo 0, Garcia 0.

        Quarterscores: 23-8; 33-27; 55-43; 66-57.

          1

          DLSU will try to bounce back after its heartbreaking loss to FEU as the Green Archers take on the winless Adamson Soaring Falcons.  La Salle’s 7-game win streak was snapped last Wednesday in a 74-70 loss to FEU.  Now, the Green Archers will try to not just to start a new winning streak but to gain momentum as well as the elimination round nears its conclusion.  The Final Four cast is getting clearer and clearer with each passing day, however, the much-coveted twice-to-beat advantage is still very much up for grabs so La Salle can’t afford to slip once again.  During the first round encounter, La Salle dominated Adamson with a score of 67-48.  Kib Montalbo had a career game, scoring 18 points by hitting several mid-range jump shots while Prince Rivero led the bench mob of DLSU by contributing 12 markers.  La Salle should not underestimate Adamson, as the Falcons showed flashes of brilliance during their near wins against UST and their relatively close games against FEU and UE.

          Keys to the Game:

          Play for 40 Minutes
          During their first round encounter, La Salle needed a huge late third quarter run to pull away over Adamson.  DLSU also needed a third quarter run to pull away against UP during their second round game.  And of course, the Archers blew huge double-digit leads during both games against FEU and the game against Ateneo in the first round.  The defending champions needs to be more consistent during the last few games of the elimination round as we don’t want to carry bad habits when we reach the Final Four.  La Salle needs to control this game from the get-go, similar to the DLSU-UP game during the first round.  Adamson has improved a lot during their last few games so La Salle should not give the Falcons any confidence that they can hang on against us.  The starters should bring the energy, the ANIMO from the very start and the bench mob should do the same when they get their time to play.

          Turnovers
          During the FEU game, La Salle had 19 turnovers compared to only 9 for FEU.  It is hard to win games when you have 10 more turnovers than your opponents.  Yes, we did win against UE despite having 36 turnovers but we can’t afford to be careless with the basketball and hope to just flip on the switch to win in every game.  There were too many sloppy and soft passes against FEU last Wednesday and La Salle needs to make crisper passes and be more focus this Sunday against Adamson.  ADU is already eliminated and they have nothing to lose so we can’t afford to give them second chance opportunities to boost their confidence.  Which brings us to the next key of the game.

          Points Off Turnovers
          During their first round game, La Salle converted 23 points out of the 22 turnovers by Adamson, while the Falcons only had 7 points off the 18 turnovers of DLSU.  La Salle should once again take advantage of this young Falcons team this Sunday in this department.  Perhaps a variation of a press or a half court trap can be used by the Archers to make life miserable for the ball handlers of Adamson.

          Rebounding
          La Salle out-rebounded Adamson 46-39 during their last encounter.  However, I believe DLSU can out-rebound ADU with a much bigger margin.  Arnold Van Opstal was quiet during the game against FEU, as he only grabbed 2 rebounds.  Hopefully, AVO can find his groove during this game and give us a strong rebounding performance.  Expect Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins and Norbert Torres to have strong rebounding games against the rookie big guys of Adamson, the stocky Ivan Villanueva and 6’7 Matthew Aquino.

          Second Chance Points
          La Salle had more offensive rebounds against Adamson during their previous encounter, 16-10.  However, La Salle failed to capitalize on this, making just 2 points out of second chance opportunities.  If La Salle wants to control this game from start to finish, DLSU needs to dominate the offensive rebounding department and make the most out of it to take the fight out of the Falcons.

          Free Throws
          What a throwback moment!  I actually thought the days of free throws as a key to the game for DLSU is over, thanks to the strong free throw shooting of the team, especially Jeron Teng, during the last several games.  La Salle only shot 15/24 from the line during the last game against FEU. Again, just like what Coach Juno Sauler always emphasizes, it is about improving from game to game.  We can’t afford to bring back our previous bad habits as we try to move forward as the season is nearing its climax.  Let us all hope that our free throw shooting performance against FEU is just a bump on the road as we try to be a good free throw shooting team as the tournament progresses.

          Team Effort
          Jeron Teng exploded for 28 points against FEU but we still lost because he did not get enough help.  Norbert Torres chipped in 13 points but he was the only one outside of Jeron to score in double-figures the last time out.  During the first round game against Adamson, Jeron and Jason Perkins actually played limited minutes and only scored 2 points a piece as the other players stepped up to the plate.  Hopefully, we can have a more balance approach against Adamson.  Expect guys like Almond Vosotros and Jason Perkins to bounce back and for AVO to lead the bench mob of the Archers for this game.

          Closing Notes
          Our fate is still in our hands.  We can still get the twice-to-beat advantage.  As of this writing, there is a triple tie for second place at 7-3 and we are just a game behind FEU for first place with still a couple of games to go.  A strong showing against Adamson to gain momentum is needed because after that, we go up against the teams that are fighting for Final Four positioning as the elimination round is nearing its thrilling conclusion.

            1

            Well over a day after the Green Archers’ ugly loss to the FEU Tamaraws, there are still a few rattling images I can’t seem to get out of my head. Not the Mike Tolomia putback off his own missed free throw, his off the dribble baskets in that frenetic second half along with Alejandrino Ingo that made mincemeat of La Salle’s perimeter defenders, nor even the array of costly turnovers such as Kib Montalbo just losing the ball at halfcourt even against minimal pressure from his defender.

            Rather these are images that still make me wince as much as the first time I saw them on the hardcourt two days ago: Jeron Teng having to push Julian Sargent (twice) against Tolomia to commit the foul, with Coach Juno Sauler nearly at midcourt doing everything short of hacking his own arm off to tell his boys to stop the clock. Or Teng and Montalbo looking like they were ready to rip each other’s heads off after that crucial Tolomia rebound. And of course one that is more audial: the screams of a terrifyingly furious Coach Sauer during a 3rd quarter timeout that reportedly pierced even through the lower box seats in a temporarily silent and anxious MOA Arena.

            More than the 7-game winning streak coming to the end or ceding the top spot temporarily, just as it was accurately signified in my colleague’s pregame dissection of the matchup against the Tamaraws, it would’ve been a character win against our opening day tormentors and an FEU team that has frankly been playing superb team basketball since the preseason tournament. Unfortunately, in this case it turned out to be a character loss.

            While there is no reason for faith to waver or hopes to sink even in the slightest that in the last few games of the season the Green Archers will be among two teams left standing, at this point in the 2nd round of eliminations one necessarily expects just a bit more from any worthy title contender. Just as I’m fairly certain Coach Sauler expects his boys to play like the title was on the line for the entire 40 minutes of every single game, no matter the opponent.

            I’ve seen firsthand how hard the coaching staff pushes these players. In fact, one of the images from last year’s run seared into my memory is of the likes of Jason Perkins gasping and holding onto the bars along the sidelines of the Enrique Razon Sports Center after just undergoing suicide drills along with the rest of the team, and bracing himself for a few more. All of this right after the final whistle of a tune up game against the Perpetual Help Altas, who themselves hadn’t even left the court yet. I later confirmed that despite winning, the Green Archers just weren’t showing enough energy on that overcast day during the break in between elimination rounds.

            Just like with the press, Coach Sauler is brief and concise with his words when it comes to motivating his boys. But by now, there are a few things that should be loud and clear, even to the Lasallian faithful: there will be no resting on one’s laurels for every single member of this La Salle team.

            After such a loss against FEU, this now trademark relentless pursuit of excellence seems more grounded. And urgent. And necessary. Both for dealing with odds on and off the court. Because after the win against UP, which boiled down to being unacceptable because of the disorganized first three quarters that really overshadowed the win, it should be clear that it’s all about developing desirable habits.

            For anyone who was still skeptical of this unyielding pursuit of playing basketball as close to perfection as possible even after the team just bagged the crown last season, it would be wise to now realize that it definitely ain’t no schtick. Because for a team that represents an institution which sets a higher standard for its community, it all starts with the little habits that need to be enacted day in and day out in order to be actualized.

            Aside from turnovers that has become the largest bane of this La Salle team, just like in that opening day loss, picking apart the stat sheet for the loss against FEU doesn’t really yield clear answers. I’m sure there are purists and more scholarly pundits that can tell us otherwise. But taking my cue from the character of this team, I have no urge to throw anyone under the bus, or harp on non-calls and breaks of the game that may be interweaved with pressing social ills if there was enough delusion at hand.

            But with such a tight race for positioning at this stage in the tournament, with a single loss possibly costing any team the twice to beat advantage, it’s the little things you don’t want to end up regretting. Just like a rebounding miscue on a missed free throw.

            Along with all the little habits that need to be further instilled, maybe this La Salle team needs to start playing with a constant chip on its collective shoulder. From the first five down to the last player on the bench. A chip with all the external skepticism and hype etched on it. One that makes you want to prove yourself over and over again against your own standards. Being its own reward and much more gratifying than any trophy or title acquired.

            Because every other team with equal motivation and hunger will bring their A-game against the defending champions. Just ask the Altas and JRU Heavy Bombers from the preseason tournament, who shed tears and celebrated like crazy after pulling off wins against the UAAP champions even in what would eventually be inconsequential games.

            Because with a chip on their shoulders, it might bring out the kind of game Coach Sauler constantly demands, and close to something George “Big Daddy Kala” Tratter told his son recently, days before returning to the US with heavy heart but eager for next season and, along with his wife Sony, armed with all the warmth from a receptive Lasallian community during their brief visit: that you play all 40 minutes of each game and treat each opponent as if you were defending the crown on every single possession.

            For any other team this may seem like asking too much. But not for the Green Archers and their campaign for back-to-back titles. Where one needs to be extra sharp in making timely passes and in catching the ball to make use of that precious split second before a defender recovers. Or for every teammate who falls a step behind, another would be quick to step in for the help. Or all the attempts of opponents at horseplay to get in one’s head just has to be shrugged off. As if the title was on the line on nearly every single play, from opening tip to final buzzer.

            Because maybe with a constant chip on their shoulders—fortified by pride and discipline–can the Green Archers have those heads once again primed and ready for the crown. And after proving every other single pretender and would-be contender unworthy of it.

              3

              Winning, whether by the slimmest of margins or by the biggest of blowouts will mask any weakness or bad habits. The euphoria of winning during the seven-game winning streak of the De La Salle Green Archers certainly erased the nightmares of the 0-2 start for Season 77. After more than a month of getting the privilege to sing the La Salle alma mater first, the defending champions crashed back to Earth, losing once again to Far Eastern University, 74-70.

              With all due respect to the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagle and National University Bulldog teams, this second round match-up had all the elements of a title series. The inconveniently scheduled Wednesday game not only had a playoff vibe but also down-the-wire, all-or-nothing and give-your-everything atmosphere from both sides.

              The Tamaraws were up by eight, their biggest of the game with 2:55 to go courtesy of a Mac Belo layup. Down but not out, La Salle converted second chance opportunities on three straight plays to trim the lead to just one, 68-69 with less than minute to go.

              Breaks of the game however favored the Morayta-based squad as two non-calls: one when Almond Vosotros’ path was blocked by Russel Escoto and got the ball stripped and the other on a Jeron Teng drive against Anthony Hargrove with 8.3 seconds proved to be crucial to the final outcome.

              The biggest break for FEU came on the penultimate play when no one boxed-out chief gunner Mike Tolomia. The fourth year guard rebounded his own miss from the charity stripe and with an under goal stab broke the hearts of La Salle and completed a season sweep for FEU and rise to 8-2 in the standings.

              Jeron might have won the battle of superstars with 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists compared to Tolomia’s 22, five and three but would easily trade any post-game individual awards for the win.

              Coach Juno Sauler and his wards might have fallen short in the two FEU losses, but the I still have faith in the team not to fall for the same mistakes in the coming games.

              Misleading statistics
              La Salle, being the taller team will almost always dominate the battle of the boards and for the whole game had a 55-43 advantage. The Archers grabbed a lion’s share of the rebounds in the first half with 23 defensive and 12 offensive rebounds compare to FEU’s 20 total rebounds.

              In the second half, FEU had the slight advantage in both defensive (23-20) and offensive (eight versus DLSU’s seven), none bigger than dagger putback by Tolomia to seal the FEU comeback win.

              With 19 turnovers, La Salle committed right at the average 18.5 errors during the seven-game winning streak. However, bulk of the mistakes happened during the second half where La Salle needed to fend off the FEU attack in the third period or to gain momentum and get back the lead at the fourth.

              Where’s the support?
              Yes, Jeron was a one-man wrecking crew, with Norbert Torres being the only other Green Archer to score in double-digits with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Season 76 finals MVP scored 40% of the team’s points and shot almost a third of the team’s attempts.

              FEU coach Nash Racela’s strategy to let the other Archers beat his team was a brilliant move. During a few stretches of the game, it seemed like Jeron was the only one willing to attack the Tamaraw defense, getting little to no contribution from everyone else.

              Fellow starters Almond and Jason Perkins saw heavy minutes but combined to shoot 7/28 from the field. Although the duo combined for 21 rebounds and six assists, 15 total points will not be enough to beat a dangerous team like FEU.

              With Julian Sargent getting the Tolomia assignment, Almond matched-up with FEU guard Achie Iñigo. Vosotros was unable to slow down the quick Iñigo and even got outscored, 10-7.

              After leading 35-26 at the break, La Salle failed to match FEU’s increased energy and activity in the second half. The bench, a reliable source of points and effort for the past games was also missing in this match, scoring a season-low 10 points courtesy of five from Arnold Van Opstal, a Kib Montalbo three and a field goal from rookie Prince Rivero.

              Learning from the first round encounter
              After letting the Tamaraws shoot seven of 18 from three-point area in the first round, La Salle’s perimeter defense kept the FEU shooters silent, allowing only two of 16 this time, all from second-year guard Iñigo. The Tamaraws still used the dribble-handout to setup their shots from the outside and drive but DLSU was able to adjust, either by going hard through the screener or with help defense from other players.

              Time will tell is this lost is merely a hiccup or a bad sign of things to come. The Green Archers might have let the opportunity to be the number one team in standings go but with four games left, still have the chance for the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.

              This season’s edition of DLSU might not feature a 7-0 sweep of any round like last year’s but the journey to the playoffs and championship doesn’t get any less exciting and interesting. Coach Juno Sauler and his wards might have fallen short in the two FEU losses, but the I still have faith in the team not to fall for the same mistakes in the coming games.