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    If it walks like a champion and defends like a champion and shares the ball like a champion…then it’s definitely the De La Salle Green Archers you’re referring to.

    As soon as Arnold Van Opstal’s name was called as part of Saturday’s starting unit against the NU Bulldogs, I could tell something special was going to happen. Special and oh so familiar. No frills or theatrics, just textbook De La Salle championship basketball.

    While the return to offensive form of Van Opstal and Almond Vosotros was most evident, it was the solid, cohesive team play on both ends of the floor that is the largest symptom to signify the Green Archers are more than ready to finish out the season strong. A strong message to the few others left standing that at this point in the season–in case anyone has carelessly forgotten at their own risk—more than any other team Coach Juno Sauler and his boys know by heart what it takes to be the guests of honor at a coronation.

    With more conscious and disciplined floor spacing, the first possession of the Green Archers bode well for how the rest of the game would be orchestrated. The first feed to Van Opstal in the post, passing out off the quick double to Vosotros who obliges with a three-point basket from the left wing. And while the duo scored 14 of the first 16 points for La Salle, it was the involvement of almost everyone who was fielded in that allowed the defending champions to run away with the win.

    Exhibiting extra patience and trust, having all five players touch the ball in numerous offensive possessions off quick passes and decisive off the ball movement, the latter part of the game turned into a showcase of hardnosed basketball that served as welcome relief more for blood pressure levels as with previous games than for hasty skepticism due to earlier ugly wins and losses.

    None more so evident than in one sequence with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, with the ball going through all five players, resulting in an offensive rebound and another three-point shot by Vosotros for the first double-digit lead of the game, 49-39. I could also see how every play was being executed as if the game was on the line, especially in the second half, not because of a desire to pull off explosive baskets or highlight plays, but due to the dissatisfaction with anything that fell short of precision.

    With 8:16 left in the game, note Norbert Torres uncharacteristically showing a bit of exasperation to Jeron Teng after being called for a 3-second violation when the play called for the pass to come from Sargent at the top of the key, not from the wing. And true to Coach Sauler’s metaphysical playbook of never dwelling on past mistakes aside from what can be learned in the pursuit of improvement, the next play resulted in a drive and dish by Teng to the resilient Torres from the right corner to push the lead back up to 11, 55-44.

    Not getting stuck in the past, never looking too far ahead, appreciating the here and now and whatever goals and obstacles the present moment brings. Moving on as competently as possible from goal to goal, with the frame of mind and depth of character instilled by a head coach of substance and a slew of assistant coaches that is a virtual hall of fame roster for players in their respective positions.

    Also true to the championship DNA of this team, doing their jobs well is its own reward. No time or energy to be expended on swagger or fluff, as Vosotros and his return to form would most definitely be entitled to. But that just isn’t him, with the same game face on through shooting slumps or hot streaks. And for anyone who though all that effort against UE last Wednesday was an exercise in futility, look back especially at Vosotros’ last three point shot of the game, and his immeasurable sigh of relief, cutting the deficit to 1 with 1.7 seconds left.

    Giving us the picture-perfect reason why you keep fighting to the end. Whether in the face of huge odds that would cause the faint of heart to call it a day, any sort of momentum will only serve a player well–trusted by his entire team through thick and thin–going into the next game.

    The same goes for Jason Perkins, who has finally decided to get involved by keeping his head down and playing hard, largely through encouragement by his teammates. Despite blowing cold in the first half, Perkins never stopped playing hard defense nor trusting his shot, deciding to take it outside for key jumpers and a put back with 3:39 left in the game for the biggest lead at 64-47. Along with the return to post dominance of Van Opstal, one can almost feel the quivering of the rest of the league at the prospect of facing a La Salle frontline playing at optimum levels, deliriously skipping hands with its hot shooting guards, headed into the most crucial stage of the season.

    With a pair marquee players on this La Salle team making waves on ads and billboards, and others hogging highlight reels and sound bites, Norbert Torres has quietly worked his ass off the entire season. Showing the same intensity from day one and throughout all the offensive struggles of the rest of the team, not enough can be said about his relentless effort on his last season for the Green and White. Now that the others have joined the party, Torres upped his game even more, making key baskets in that second half run against NU.

    With nearly everyone getting back their groove, we move closer to the equilibrium Coach Sauler finds secret pleasure in. He won’t show it, of course, but his heart must be giggling and doing cartwheels; in the same way I am pleased with the offensive coherence generated by patient ball movement rather than merely one or two players. Just like last season, with four players averaging double digits, three more with at least 7 per game, and five different players emerging as top scorer throughout the season. Without having to carry most (or all) of the scoring load, Teng can ease back into a more well rounded role with more assists and rebounds as the plays still go through him and the double/triple teams he always requires.

    But it all starts and ends with defense with this La Salle team, just like last year but now only a bit more athletic and diverse, with bench players such as Julian Sargent and Prince Rivero providing indispensable relief minutes on both ends. Never showing up on the stat sheets or leading the league in defensive categories (third in points allowed), because it’s all done with the nitty gritty things that can only be pulled off if all five on the floor work together- weak side help, communication off screens, quick switching, active hands, clogging the passing lanes, hustle on 50-50 balls, court awareness.

    As we all see a little more oil in the Green Machine, just a little more satisfaction coming for Coach Sauler, and still room for improvement in terms of taking care of the ball and more contribution from other bench players, among other things, it can also be gleaned that when the words “Take care of the little things” were written in the locker room as a reminder for that crucial game against the Bulldogs, it also meant taking care of each other.

    Despite all our anxieties and exasperations and wild emotional swings so far in the season, this championship team takes care of business quietly. No nonsense, no melodrama. And while often mistaken for aloofness stemming from a head coach with a world-class poker face, it’s all just this team’s way of defining and exemplifying their love for the game. By playing it the way it should be played–with strongly bonded Animo spirit–and by never taking themselves and the hype they generate too seriously.

    Visualize Van Opstal quietly standing up in the locker room of a deserted MOA Arena on a rainy Friday morning and walking over to Vosotros, pinning the latter’s head between his legs in a pseudo-wrestling move, eliciting giggles from the others, all while Coach Sauler’s back is turned pointing to video clips of UST’s offensive tendencies just minutes before the team’s final practice the day before last year’s title-clinching game. Or Jason Perkins being bullied and teased into blushing about a girl he fancies by Kib Montalbo and Robert Bolick on each side, all three on the floor stretching and limbering up for another grueling practice session at the Enrique Razon gym.

    While much importance is rightfully placed on fundamentals, discipline, and statistics in face of the grueling odds UAAP men’s basketball flings at this team on nearly a daily basis, love for the game and each other is truly the current that runs through its fabric, and the foundation that keeps it towering over the rest. Albeit at times temporarily neglected in the hail of frustration, but never completely forgotten.

    Because with a head coach who once described his mentoring approach in a succinct and suspiciously warm one-word reply (“Love.”), the heart of this La Salle team will always be 14-deep. And Animo strong.


      La Salle 71
      NU 75

      UST Quadricentennial Pavilion – On one end sat the defending champions; on the other, the tournament’s runaway leaders, one win from sweeping the eliminations. Only twelve months after the De La Salle Lady Archers were crowned champions, the balance of power threatens to shift again.

      The league table does not lie: the Lady Bulldogs have grown into a fearsome unit since losing last year’s Finals. They play with authority, they know their spots on the floor, and use their heft and quickness – exemplified by the improbably agile Shelley Gupilan – to pounce on teams early. In contrast, like their Seniors counterparts, the Lady Archers have struggled to reach championship form this season, having to deal with late shocks to their roster and the troubling loss of form of key players. The first meeting had been a mauling. In this new venue, the regulars, the visiting ex-players, the kibitzers, could not have been blamed for suspecting that another execution may well announce an advance coronation.

      NU won the tipoff and straightaway Afril Bernardino found her spot on the left wing and shot with full extension – swish despite the contest. But La Salle started with a unit meant to match the physicality and length of the Lady Bulldogs. They held their own defensively until quick ball movement found Jonah Melendres and Trisha Piatos at the perimeter, opening up a seven-point lead 16-9. But NU regrouped, picked off a couple of errant La Salle passes and finished the quarter with an 8-0 burst of their own.

      The Lady Bulldogs shut down the lane in the second quarter and futile drives by Nicky Garcia and Camille Claro against double and triple teams dampened La Salle’s offence. NU’s Gemma Miranda and Gupilan would thrive on the transition game, putting their balanced attack on full display; Gupilan would end up with eight assists on the day and seven Lady Bulldogs would score in those pivotal ten minutes. NU would go into the break leading 36-26, in a comfortable place.

      After the break, the best twenty minutes of the season: the Monstars versus the Tune Squad, Mayweather the welterweight versus Pacquiao the featherweight, Outdated Movie References versus Awkward Sporting Parallels. La Salle swarmed the Lady Bulldogs on defence and went inside to Inna Corcuera and Alyanna Ong on offence. They caught well and finished smartly and made up six points on NU’s lead in less than three minutes.

      Then NU’s Andrea Tongco and Miranda would take the fight outside and engage La Salle’s Piatos, Melendres and Claro in a gunfight from long range that felt like a Finals series being born. Triple after triple would rain down; the quarter output of both teams – 31 for DLSU, 24 for NU – enough to fill some games. NU would survive the barrage with a three-point lead coming into the last ten minutes, but Miller Ong and Garcia would keep La Salle knocking at the door, an excruciating sequence of missed opportunities until one minute remained and Cass Santos would visit the line for two free throws. She would hit them both, Ara Abaca and Kady Wilson would erupt on the sideline like it was 2012, Claro and Chay Vergara would gesture the letters of their school from the bench like eager Pep Squad initiates, and the Lady Archers would taste the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.

      But over the next two plays, NU’s Miranda would break La Salle hearts, first by driving hard and taking the lead back for her 23rd and final points of the game, then by stealing a wayward pass by Miller Ong with thirty seconds left. Gupilan would be fouled, the Lady Archers would miss a crucial box-out for the second game running, and after fourteen games without tasting defeat, NU would secure a thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals. La Salle’s defence may end prematurely in two games, or protractedly in as many as six.

      Epilogue: In the dugout, there would be no recriminations, only new energy from the players and defiance from a teary-eyed Tyrone Bautista. Three hours later, the Seniors team would finally combust against NU and thousands would go home happy, hailing the return of “La Salle Basketball”, this cherished thing you wait ages for that can make one champion coach smile, and another champion coach cry.

      Player of the game: Inna Corcuera, who was full value for her 20 minutes in the middle – nine points on four-of-five shooting, ten rebounds, three steals and a block. Her rebound haul, complemented by Cass Santos and Miller Ong’s (nine and eight respectively) completed the massive defensive effort needed to contain NU’s more athletic squad. In their first meeting, NU were 22 points better; in this second, they were four points better. Imagine what could happen if Corky still gets better.


        It’s beginning to feel like 2013 again. Seven-game winning streak in the eliminations, check. 10-4 win-loss record at the end of the eliminations, check. And finally, a virtual best-of-three series against Far Eastern U in the UAAP men’s basketball Final Four.

        In a quality matchup scheduled during the primetime block, the De La Salle Green Archers tamed the methodical National U Bulldogs, 68-56 to formalize their entry into the UAAP playoffs. The perfect combination of hot 50% shooting coupled with a very stingy defense more than made up for the disappointing loss last Wednesday against the UE Red Warriors.

        Relax for the next few days as the real season starts next week.

        Save for the 11-point output in the second quarter, the Green Archers showed champion poise and experience from the get go. In a balanced attack, the combined 10 points from Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres complemented an on-target Almond Vosotros, who sank two early three-point shots en route to La Salle leading 20-17 at the end of the first period.

        The sense of urgency, sharp focus and defensive intensity is a welcome sight after the uninspired games against Adamson, UST and UE. After being tied 31-all at intermission, La Salle got busy on both ends of the floor. After Gelo Alolino tied the score once again at 37 with 7:00 to go, DLSU did not allow another NU field goal for the next 5:30, while the La Salle five of Jason Perkins, AVO, Jeron, Julian Sargent and Almond scored at will. The last Voso-tres with 1:44 left, punctuated the 18-4 run, giving the Archers its first double digit lead, 49-39.

        There was no letup even after the Bulldogs cut the lead to five at the start of the final period. Six quick points by The Bear gave La Salle the double digit lead back while Kib Montalbo, Arnold, Almond, Jason and Julian all scored a field goal each during a 11-1 run to dash any NU hopes of a comeback.

        The Bulldogs had no answer for the wave after wave of La Salle momentum, scoring only six points in the first nine minutes of the quarter before padding their score at garbage time.

        How’d you like me now?
        Almond, after bearing the bulk of the blame for the UE loss was the man of the match. He started the game strong, scoring eight points then finished the game with 15 total points. The fifth-year veteran outplayed his younger Bulldog counterparts, using a variety of pump fakes, nifty footwork and high-arching shots to make 6/11, in the process breaking out of his personal four-game 13/52 shooting slump.

        AVO likewise rebounded from his zero-attemp, zero-point, foul-plagued game against the Red Warriors with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. Against a less physical import duo of Alfred Aroga and Joel Betayene, Van Opstal had a field day in the paint, using an array of shots from hooks, put back and bank shots to frustrate the NU defense.

        To recall, Arnold was quoted last year in saying that he felt the season and championship were theirs for the taking; his dominant game was just a less quite but more visual statement to rest of the league and all the haters that the Green Archers are dead-serious in their title-retention bid.

        Inspired play
        Confidence can be infectious. Perkins picked up the slack in the third period, nailing two jumpers and a hook shot for six of his total eight points. Kib then shot two long shot-clocking beating perimeter shots in the fourth to take the fight to the heart of the Bulldogs.

        Despite Thomas Torres being cleared to play, Montalbo still got the starting nod and did not fail coach Juno Sauler, decisive and quick despite repeated full-court press attempts by NU, the Bacolod-native turned the ball over just once while helping La Salle’s cause with five points and four rebounds.

        As the rest of the team picked up the slack, the past heroic efforts of Jeron took a back seat to a dangerous and hard to defend team ball. The Season 76 Finals MVP might have finished a human-like nine points, five rebounds and four assists but together with the rest of the team left the Smart Araneta Coliseum with a W.

        This crucial win ensured that La Salle does not fall into fourth place in the standings, where a dangerous and streaking UE Red Warrior team is on target to play a winner-goes-to-the-final-four playoff game.

        As it is, the Archers get not only a chance to go in the finals against the Tamaraws but also retribution with FEU sweeping La Salle in two elimination games, 77-82 and 74-70. Let’s enjoy the rest of the weekend; while the coaching staff prepares for the Nash Racela-lead Tams, relax for the next few days as the real season starts next week.

        Animo La Salle!


          The last time we saw Arnold Van Opstal on the floor of the Smart-Araneta Coliseum, he had more fouls than points, he didn’t attempt a single shot, and his hair was in disarray. But today, as a starter, his teammates pounded the ball to him, and he responded. He scored La Salle’s first basket, had seven at the half, and had 14 and six at the end of the game. And yes, the hair was perfectly fine today.

          The last time we saw Almond Vosotros was on the giant screen above the court. He drove towards the basket, only to have the ball stolen from him by UE’s Dan Alberto. The sequence was replayed on the screen, over and over, like a recurring nightmare. But today, he scored La Salle’s first triple, had eight at the half, and finished the game with 15 points, including a 3-for-4 (75%) showing from three-point territory.

          The giant screen again showed him today, but this time, it was a little different. Today he was the recipient of a pass from Jason Perkins, and he knocked down a three-pointer from the right wing. Today he was shown on the screen driving to the basket and pulling up for an easy jumper.

          And Jeron Teng, who had been carrying La Salle in their past few games? He still had nine points, but he was mostly busy finding his teammates for open shots and easy buckets.

          After a stinging loss against the UE Red Warriors, the Green Archers rebounded and ended their season with an auspicious 68-56 victory over the NU Bulldogs in their final elimination round game earlier tonight at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. The win allows the Archers to finish the elims with a 10-4 win-loss card, which forces a tie and a playoff for second place against FEU, who earlier lost to Ateneo in overtime.

          After beginning the fourth quarter up by just five points, 49-44, La Salle went to Norbert Torres inside early in the payoff period, and the Bear responded with six quick points to put the Archers up by 11. Bulldog Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga responded with a basket and a free throw, respectively, but  the Archers went on a searing run to end the match, starting with a triple by Kib Montalbo, a hook shot by Van Opstal, and a jumper by Vosotros.

          Perkins, who himself had a bad showing against the Red Warriors, scored again for La Salle as their lead swelled to 64-48. Aroga had another split on the line for NU, but Julian Sargent scored and was fouled and Montalbo nailed another one from mid-range for the Archers to establish the game’s biggest lead, 68-49, with only 57 seconds left, putting the game out of reach.

          After struggling during the first two quarter, Perkins came alive early in the third, as he scored four of La Salle’s first six points. Troy Rosario and Alolino traded baskets with the Archers, but Perkins, Vosotros, and Sargent once again scored for the Archers as they increased their lead to 46-37, with  a little over two minutes remaining in the period. But Alolino canned two charities and scored two baskets again for the NU as they pulled to within 49-43 after thirty minutes of play.

          The Bulldogs actually got off to a quick start, capitalizing on three early turnovers by La Salle. They led by as much as six, 15-9, after a basket by Aroga with a little than three minutes left in the first. La Salle, however, ended the quarter with an 11-2 spurt to take a 20-17 lead after the game’s first ten minutes, with Vosotros and Van Opstal combining for 14 of their 20.

          But after shooting 56% in the first canto, La Salle struggled to find the basket early in the second, as NU unleashed a 12-2 blitz of their own, holding the Archers scoreless for more than five minutes to restore a 29-24 advantage. Van Opstal, however, built on a strong showing in the first and scored against over Aroga, before having a split on the charity stripe later on. Teng, who had hitherto taken only two shots, made two charities and then rifled in a three-pointer before a basket by Khobuntin capped the period as La Salle forged a 31-all tie at the turn.

          Aside from Van Opstal, Vosotros and Teng, Norbert Torres finished with 13 points and four boards in only 17 minutes of play, while Perkins added eight and seven boards. For the Bulldogs, it was Alolino who finished with a game-high 18 points and two boards, while Rosario chipped in with 14 markers and five boards, but was the only other NU player in double-figures.

          The Archers, the league’s best rebounding team, narrowly lost the battle of the boards, 35-36, but overall made more than half their shots for a 50.9% shooting clip as compared to only 36.8% for NU. La Salle also had more assists, 13-7, more inside points, perimeter points, and got a huge 17 from their bench.

          The Semis Rematch: A year later and the Archers again find themselves locking horns with the FEU Tamaraws in a virtual best-of-three Final Four. The first game, which will be a playoff for the second twice-to-beat advantage, will be played next Sunday, September 21, 3pm at the Mall of Asia Arena.

          Notes: Before the game, it was announced that Thomas Torres will be playing for the Archers. Torres was in uniform for the first time since suffering a toe fracture during their July 19 game against Ateneo.

          The Scores:

          DLSU- 68- Vosotros-15, Van Opstal-14, Torres-13, Teng-9, Perkins-8, Montalbo-5, Sargent-4, Rivero-0, Bolick-0, Mustre-0, Tratter-0

          NU- 56- Alolino-18, Rosario-14, Javelona-8, Aroga-8, Khobuntin-4, Betayene-4, Diputado-0, Celda-0, Neypes-0, Perez-0

          Quarterscores: 20-17, 31-31, 49-43, 68-56


            The storyline for tomorrow’s game has become much simpler.  Win and still get a chance to get that #2 position going into the Final Four and that coveted twice to beat advantage.  Lose and face again the well-oiled UE Red Warrior machine steamrolling in the league at the moment (I expect UE to beat UST on Tuesday to be honest).  Another consequence is that the loser of tomorrow’s game may see themselves gone fishing this early considering that NU and DLSU positioned themselves early on to clinch those Final Four slots.

            I am not sure as well if NU or DLSU wants to see UE again at this point so I am expecting another all-out gut-wrenching close game tomorrow between the Green Archers and the Bulldogs.  Primarily for the Green Archers, Jeron Teng definitely needs help on the offensive end, especially in the area of creating opportunities for defenses to break down so that DLSU can rotate the ball more.  For NU, what’s changed from the first round until now is that Troy Rosario has been given more leeway on the offensive end, getting more touches and providing plays to Alfred Aroga to seal deep and get easy baskets.

            Back in the first round, NU relied more on their perimeter game, even I was surprised that Aroga settled for jumpers (Alfred was 6-for-9 from the field that game, leading NU in scoring with 12 points) and the Bulldogs ending up with 25 perimeter points in the process.  Most came from isolation sets wherein Aroga and Rosario making jumpers out of jab steps, in which I think was DLSU’s plan back in that game to let the Bulldogs shoot jumpers rather than getting comfortable inside.  I still see DLSU putting on this game plan for tomorrow’s game, carefully letting NU players to take challenged jumpers but not giving them enough room to penetrate inside the paint.

            With this type of defense back in the first round, Gelo Alolino was not able to put up his usual numbers as he was down to just 9 points in 3-for-10 shooting from the field.  Gelo had difficulty measuring up and getting into his usual groove of taking his floaters once he is inside the paint.  If NU was not able to convert their challenged jumpers, the margin of victory for DLSU would have been bigger in this game.

            One thing to watch out for NU is their pick and roll off hand-offs either at the top of the key or on the elbow spots.  That’s where Gelo Alolino likes to thrive as well as Nico Javelona who has been shooting well in NU’s previous games.  It is also the same area where Rev Diputado gets his rhythm on offense so taking away this option or limiting NU’s production on this sets will make them revert back to an isolation offense wherein Alolino, Diputado, Rosario, and Khobuntin are all comfortable taking it strong to the basket as compared to taking jumpers.

            DLSU’s bigs have to be wary of Aroga and Betayene’s spots on the floor where they flash quickly deep in the paint to get easy baskets.  It will still be better for Aroga and Betayene to catch the ball in an area where it is not their comfort zone.  Back in the first round game, DLSU lived by its 32 inside points courtesy of Norbert and Jason.  Hopefully, both, along with Arnold, will get their groove tomorrow and get those inside points once again to force NU to play Neypes, Perez, and Salim in the middle.  Especially Jason, I’d really like to see him get his offensive contribution back on track.

            Jason is the team’s third leading scorer with 10.3 points per game and if he cannot get his focus and get his rhythm going, it makes life difficult for the Green Archers to win ball games.  Getting better in his match-ups tomorrow will be a key since it can be against one of NU’s offensive threats, either Troy Rosario or Glenn Khobuntin.  Making one or both of those work on defense will help decrease their offensive contribution so for me, it will be important to have that third scorer behind Jeron and Almond to have a good game tomorrow and I am hoping that it will be Jason.

            If the statistics of the first round encounter of these two teams can be seen, all stats were close except for the inside points and perimeter points category.  I still see that DLSU will keep on doing that, going inside the paint as its primary source of offensive production.  As for NU, I am expecting adjustments since they would like to do the same, getting inside points as much as possible and not rely on one-on-one jumpers off created, challenged shots.

            Another thing going for these two teams is that both rely on playing tough defense to get stops and get baskets on the break so I am also expecting to see off and on the ball pressure, especially on the perimeter, not making it easy for both teams to set up their offense.  Both teams’ image of playing tough defense was reflected in their first round game as NU was limited to just 37% field goal shooting while DLSU finished the game with 35% shooting from the field.  It will not be easy to score on half court sets that is why it will be important to get easy baskets off transition to take away the burden of scoring from half court sets.

            Just like last season, DLSU’s final game in the elimination round will be an all-important one.  Last year, DLSU had to beat UST to force a triple tie at 10-4, giving them a chance to secure a twice to beat advantage and finish as the #2 team at the end of the elimination round via a playoff.  This season, it is the same scenario all over again.  It will be another tiring, physical game, but more importantly, for as long as the team stays mentally tough for forty minutes, it will definitely give the Green Archers a good chance to win the game.  Relax for the rest of the day guys as tomorrow, do not expect to be one, especially when the ball tips off at 6:00pm.

            Whatever the result is, it will always be La Salle all the way.


              The only thing to match the gruesomeness of the final four minutes of yesterday’s game, wherein the UE Red Warriors’ counter-comeback from a 10-point deficit placed the Green Archers in a must-win situation on Saturday to secure at least a playoff berth for the second spot in the Final Four, are the various message boards that bore the brunt of the Lasallian faithful’s ire.

              Coated in frustration and impatience, disappointment over yesterday’s 68-66 loss is easily understood. And should be expected. We like setting our bars high instead of simply squeaking by. And because at this point in the tournament, this late in the season, there can be no simple shrugging off losses anymore. And as with any near-crisis undergone, the wounds have to be fully tended to before any healing can begin.

              For both casual and rabid fans alike, the 30 turnovers committed by the Green Archers would be enough to fatten any dark cloud on what would have been a potentially uplifting day. Just like the first round encounter, nearly every kind of error was induced, from backing violations to wayward inbounds passes. I’ll save the elaboration on irony for more scholarly minds, but truly, Game Killer thy name is The Pumaren Full Court Press.

              Let’s not stop there. Because in those final four minutes, everything except the kitchen sink went awry for this La Salle team. Free throw shooting, poor decision making, highly questionable lead management, offensive disarray in the clutch, uncharacteristic post weakness, the absence of legitimate playmaking skills.  Throw in the usual Almond Vosotros hate, now magnified more than ever, sprinkled with doubts pertaining to optimum bench utilization, one would think we weren’t taking about a team still very much in the hunt for a second seed in the final four.

              And all of that is just on the surface, from those casting a quick glance at the game. Because I’ve also been privy to ever growing frustration over the shaky play of Arnold Van Opstal that continues to try the patience of many. As well as the tendency of Jason Perkins to be left underutilized, more by his vulnerability to be affected by the extra rough play against him—left to trade barbs with defenders left and right–than the absence of a more heady point guard who will set offensive patterns and create easier shots for him. Finally, the icing on the misery cake would be the ruing over Thomas Torres’ absence which especially after every loss has grown a thousandfold.

              But now that we’ve aired all our dirty laundry, with a clearer head I’d dare posit a few things that keep me upbeat. None more so than the inspired basketball to open the second half, enabling the Green Archers to turn a 15-point deficit into a 10-point lead late in the game.

              Led by the indomitable Jeron Teng slowly chipping away and again putting the team on his Asgardian shoulders by just keeping his head down, playing hard and getting to the line, all leading to the eventual opening of the floodgates which placed a new, surprising version of La Salle small ball on full display.

              Entrusting extended minutes to an unconventional five on the floor–Teng, Vosotros, Prince Rivero, Julian Sargent and Kib Montalbo, the entire Lasallian gallery was up on its feet and roaring, witnessing an excellent display of gutsy team basketball that was just a couple of fake water bucket gags and trouser-pulling antics short of Harlem Globetrotters-caliber basketball.

              Quick steals by off lazy dribbles by the UE perimeter shooters, who were reduced to airballs and wide shots by the quick switching defense of Montalbo and Vosotros. Pinpoint passing to find open snipers, with Montalbo and Sargeant obliging with decisive catches and unflinching shots. Nearly all five Archers running the floor, with Sargent capping it all off with a highlight layup that left Chares Mammie’s jaw agape. Teng joining the party from downtown and finding the open man off the doubles, and Rivero’s constant movement coupled with sharp passing for easy baskets in the paint, all while relentlessly crashing the boards. And welcome back Voso-tres who broke his slump with a three off the board, and later his third triple of the afternoon cutting the lead to 1 with a little over a second remaining.

              Team play so inspiring that it left the perpetually unsatisfied Coach Juno Sauler acknowledging the tremendous effort and heart of his boys, sending a clear message to the rest of the pack that stealing a win from La Salle will never be an easy task. While that incredible stretch was indeed a pleasure to watch, it was unfortunately unsustained and fell short, of course.

              Because if everyone is left unsatisfied with ugly wins—such as those against Adamson and UST in the second round—then yesterday’s heart shattering loss naturally reduces all of the above to footnotes, understandably overshadowed by the errors and lapses all those would-be heroes committed in the face of the UE uprising.

              With dismayed external fingers pointed in all directions, even a few aghast and already looking ahead to a dismal scenario beyond this season, the only thing that matters to this team is how they stick together while looking to the next step in pursuit of the larger goal, in the same manner through victories or potentially morale-crushing defeats. This team, from top dog to last man, will win and lose together. And by taking responsibility for a game situation scenario that he could have probably averted, Coach Sauler has put everything squarely on his own shoulders.

              Knowing that even a single soul on this team won’t be thrown under the bus not only will do wonders for the gut core of this unit–with all the improvements, tweaks and overhauls still called for in the home stretch of eliminations play leading to playoff games against still to be determined opponents–but it is also what keeps many supporters untainted by excessive angst, still fueled by great expectations for a team gunning for glory and a level of excellence unthinkable for others.

              This eye-on-the-prize paradigm applicable to all things is probably best embodied by the immeasurable spiritual focus of Assistant Coach Jun Limpot, who will gladly impart his pieces of wisdom to any eager ear in between driving the bigs on this team to the ground in instilling the basics of post dominance. This current moment is all that matters in moving on to the next goal, while learning from whatever fell short in trying to achieve the previous one. A mantra slightly shakeable only in those rare matters of the romantic heart, as tested firsthand through concise pragmatic grilling by Coach Sauler over a hearty meal with the rest of the coaching staff 24 hours before last season’s final game.

              Because just like the community it represents, this team will stick together and remain strong. Learning from previous flaws; passions unbridled, focus ever-sharper, and with heads unbowed.

              Buckle up, Lasallian faithful. It’s going to be one heck of a ride to the end of this season. Whether or not we see the emergence of the well-oiled machine we’ve all been waiting for since day one, by proving this team will go down swinging if it has to as it did during that second-half comeback, the one other guarantee is Lasallian basketball played at its finest will always be a sight to behold.

              And as for this little thing called fear, Charles Mammie got it wrong. Colorful threats all just fade the same way as insipid gossip, invectives and skepticism. Because respect, not fear, is what matters most to this La Salle team. Who will always let their actions on the court do all the talking.