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    2 196

    After that gut-wrenching victory against arch-rivals Ateneo last Sunday, the Green Archer-freight train will look to continue its travel, this time around on the other Quezon City-based university in the eight-member UAAP list, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.  UP’s celebration was cut short at the start of the 2nd round since after that morale-boosting victory against Adamson, the Fighting Maroons got derailed right away by the University of the East Red Warriors.

    I am not sure if the injuries that in the Green Archers’ camp will be enough to help out the Fighting Maroons on Saturday because I think the holdovers (for now) can still man the fort for the green and white.  La Salle dominated the first round encounter because of inside points (38 out of DLSU’s 74 points in the game).  This is not just about attacking the paint via low post plays which Norbert and Jason did.  This also includes the dribble penetration plays of Jeron Teng, which did most of the damage in the game.  With no shot blocker in sight, Jeron just towed his way towards the basket at will.  Jeron showed this against Ateneo last Sunday and I expect this one to continue on Saturday.

    I don’t see any changes on Saturday on this strategy for the Green Archers.  UP still lacks that inside defensive presence that will alter shots and make Jeron, Jason, Prince, Abu, and even Julian to hesitate and think before taking the ball to the rack.  Maybe Andrew Harris can be UP’s answer?  But if UP’s coaching staff plans to let him play for only six minutes in the game, then I really do not see anyone rim protecting for UP on Saturday.

    If UP goes zone and lets the Green Archers shoot from the outside, I think the Green Archers have slowly answered these concerns based on their game against UST last Sunday wherein the Growling Tigers went into a zone but still the Green Archers were able to respond by giving Jeron the ball at the top on the elbow side then a screen comes in which allows Jeron to have the space to either attack the basket to launch a mid-range shot.

    If the defense collapses on him, Jeron has the options to pass the ball to the open shooter, which he did for Jason’s dagger three to give DLSU a 77-64 lead last Sunday or rotate the ball more on the weak side where Julian is waiting in the corner to launch his triple or attack the basket again if the defender over commits to Julian’s ability to shoot the ball from deep.  That opens up again for another series of offensive opportunities for the Green Archers whether to attack the basket or issue drop passes inside the paint to Prince, Abu, and Yutien.

    At this point, the Green Archers are seventh in the league on three-point shooting with 22.1% so I do not blame opposing teams go zone on DLSU and let them shoot from deep rather than maximize their strength inside the paint.  But so far, I am happy with the way the coaching staff has been adjusting on how to attack the zone defense, not relying solely on passing around the perimeter to take long bombs and instead, still pick inside scoring as its first option before going to the outside if open.

    Defensively, just like all other teams, UP will try to get that mismatch on Almond early on.  Kyles Lao and Dave Moralde will be assigned to do such by flashing deep into the paint after a series of screens and try to score from there since both tower over Almond as far as height is concerned.  But of course, DLSU had proven that they can counter such measures so this is just more of a warning sign since all teams have this in their playbook to try and take away Almond’s rhythm early in the game.

    Mikee Reyes and Henry Asilum will be the players tasked to run the pick and roll along with Juruena and Gallarza.  Reyes and Gallarza worked well against Adamson so let’s see if they will get more touches to run this set on Saturday.  Problem is that both big men (Juruena and Gallarza) are more adept to running the pick and pop set since both have the touch from the perimeter, with Gallarza extending way deep to the three-point line.  With a perceived smaller DLSU front line on Saturday, let’s see if the Fighting Maroons will dare to take it inside the paint and produce points from the shaded area.

    If UP sees DLSU as a relatively poor perimeter shooting team, I think the same thing also can be applied to UP.  The Fighting Maroons shot only 10/58 from the perimeter in their first round encounter so this can also be another defensive ploy but the Green Archers have to make sure to get the rebounds as UP mustered 19 offensive rebounds in the process for 11 second chance points.  Defensive rebounds can start breaks that can help set the tempo early for DLSU.

    UP’s low post options rely still on former LSGH stalwart Gelo Vito and Dave Moralde.  Moralde is a better low post player for me although Vito can get points from the low block as well from time to time.  Let’s see if Vito can stand banging bodies with Abu, Jason, or possibly Prince on Saturday.  I do not expect that much of a low post scoring from UP on Saturday since I believe that DLSU’s active front court players can man the paint just like what they did against Abdul and company last Sunday.

    DLSU cannot be complacent against UP.  I personally believe that DLSU’s coaching staff will not allow this to happen but still, constant reminder to the team will not hurt.  UP has enough talent to play hard and push themselves to the limit and try to take a win on Saturday.  I mean, if a team plays too relaxed, this UP team can take the game away from you.  If the focus on the first round meeting will be present (especially the good, fast start to take the game away from UP from the get-go), I see the Green Archers’ freight train continue to claim another passenger to place in its storage box and a good warm up against the FEU Tamaraws on Wednesday.

      7 2284

      In the quest for title retention, the formula is deceivingly simple and unconventional in nature for Coach Juno Sauler and the De La Salle Green Archers: Allow tremendous hype to build up around them as early as the postseason while not allowing any of it to penetrate the team’s psyche, lose the first two games of the season with shades of struggle and disarray, then slowly rack up a 6-game winning streak while dealing with injuries to two starters and their respective backups, and consequently using a bulk of inexperienced players at the forefront. All while not even halfway towards peaking and running on all cylinders.

      Deceivingly simple. Unconventional. And fundamentally much more intricate than meets the eye. Just another day in the office for Coach Sauler and the De La Salle way.

      As if last season’s run hasn’t driven home the overlying narrative enough, the Coach Sauler edition of the Green Archers thrives best when counted out and in the face of adversity. After sufficiently regaining momentum lost from those back-to-back first round losses, it was then a slew of injuries to a handful of key players and a bit of a scheduling kerfuffle that became the new source of noise coming into Sunday’s game against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

      With a shorthanded lineup and limited preparation time in question, all the calm to counter the tremendous anxiety and pressure for the crucial match up could be encapsulated in Coach Sauler’s brief, cool as ice reply two days before: “Any day, sir.”

      True enough, the rematch between two storied rivals lived up to its billing, as both the final score and major statistical categories reflected all the hardcourt intensity. Both teams ending up nearly dead even in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, fast break points and turnovers, resulting in a high quality basketball game definitely worthy of all the attention it garnered.

      While in the aftermath all praises were heaved on La Salle’s defense on Kiefer Ravena, particularly by both Julian Sargent and Robert Bolick (with the former duly promoted in rank by the Green Fans army, and the latter generally reducing Von Pessumal’s sniping to a non-factor), the current that ran through the course of the game and through the entire fabric of this team again moves us a step closer to its true nature. Always adapting and evolving, yet staying true to its core: enjoying the game they all love by playing it exactly how it should be played, always being driven to improve while never losing a firm sense of purpose.

      Because in the world of Coach Sauler and the Green Archers, where the institution they represent is king and all else are just pawns fighting for its glory, basketball numbers meet incalculable heart, logic blends harmoniously with emotion, and only actions and results are allowed to speak volumes. All in pursuit of a larger goal that can only be won by mindfully engaging in all the day-to-day nitty gritty battles often overlooked by most.

      We can see it in the constantly evolving game of Jeron Teng, who has chosen to take a page out of Coach Sauler’s playbook of life by defining his brief reply to brotherly advice (“Ako bahala”) as placing the team on his broad shoulders. Going on a rampage for 32 points—the most points scored in a rivalry game since Joseph Yeo—he dictated the furious pace of the game right from the opening tip and provided enough space for the Green Archers to come away with the win in the clutch.

      Teng’s game, once evoking winces and groans from even the La Sallian faithful due to his habit of straying from plays and tendency to take ill-advised shots—along with really bad free throw shooting—has slowly gained just the right amount of control coupled with just a little more power, reading the opponent’s defense well and making them pay by either scoring at will or involving his teammates with timely passes. Not to mention the capability to lead the team in rebounding in one game, and in assists in another. Understanding that his game necessarily will involve him in late game situations at the stripe, he once frankly admitted being fully aware of all the criticism. Going 17-20 from the free throw line in Sunday’s game (and 10-11 against UST) has done all the talking.

      We can also see these opposing forces at work in the emergence of Sargent and Bolick, playing huge roles in the team’s most critical game so far. Transcending inexperience and previously being relegated in the regular rotations, both allowed their desire to prove their worth and get the job done efficiently to coincide with nearly every single minute Ravena spent on the court; digging in and going eye to eye, mindful of the screens and fighting to go over each one while also fully aware of floor spacing and where the help would be coming from.

      More than Ravena’s poor field goal shooting and despite exploding for 15 points in the second quarter, it was his 7 points in the entire second half, exhausted arms and legs resulting in countless tough shots and at least four airballs when the game could have still gone either way, that spoke best of the La Sallian defense.

      With Bolick wearing his heart on his sleeve and just firing away with the same trust in his shot as that given by his entire team, Sargent plays more stealthily. With both hands full covering his defensive assignment, there was still enough gas to scramble for every loose ball and rush downcourt to negate possible transition attacks. Capped off by a crucial, wide open three-point shot from a cross court pass by Teng as Ravena fell asleep on defense.

      At the end, with Arnold Van Opstal offering his congratulations as both raised their fists in victory, Sargent could only muster a slight grin while finally letting his head bow down. Still possibly unsure if he could already allow himself to buckle, that was a clear picture of a player who left it all on the court.

      It also can be gleaned from the smooth, steady play of Jason Perkins, knowing when to take matters in his own hands and barrel through whatever defense is given, or take the outside shot either off the dribble or when left open by the double team with the game on the line, all in the flow and mindful of on court situations. Or in Almond Vosotros, who has also never lost the trust of his team despite inexplicably being the recipient of much negativity, now knowing with relief that there are a growing number of teammates willing to take the shots at any given point as he takes over the bulk of point guard duties with Thomas Torres and Kib Montalbo nursing injuries.

      It didn’t happen right off the bat—as it seldom does—but each cog on this team gunning for back-to-back titles has slowly gained full comprehension of their respective roles, as especially exemplified in the tough and ever blossoming game of Prince Rivero. Giving it all in practices and always being ready to play. Because even with erratic rotations and off the book substitutions, along with still grasping for offensive and defensive cohesion, Coach Sauler has led by example and made it clear that even the slightest griping and individual pursuits can never be part of the grand scheme of things.

      By trusting the system, we can now see a lean, mean Green Archer title-retention machine gradually gaining steam. Partly with the same core as last season’s yet now just a little more fluid and athletic. Quicker yet more efficient, with 12 fast break points and a relatively low 12 turnovers in Sunday’s win. Just a bit more flexibility on both ends, now able to both defend and employ disciplined halfcourt sets, a running game or individual attacks. And just a little more composed, as each Ateneo run was met with assured, patient passing and ball rotation to catch the defense off guard, mostly benefitting Rivero and Sargent constantly moving without the ball and cutting into the paint.

      As always, the Green Archers could have still undoubtedly played better, with a few defensive lapses on the perimeter in the midst of the second half Blue Eagle comeback, and inside dominance suffering ever so slightly as Norbert Torres and Van Opstal have yet to play with optimum health. Despite the team also not coming away with its trademark rebounding edge, a 6-game winning streak is no trivial matter even as Coach Sauler and his boys are still striving for ideal form and balance.

      This maniacal and methodical pursuit of excellence isn’t a pretense or a head coach playing coy, easily misconstrued as a lack of appreciation or contentment even with a 3-0 record in tournament championships in his first full year. It’s a tactician who is also equal parts mentor, fully aware of where the coexistence of daily struggles and small triumphs takes place with keeping eyes glued on the bigger picture. With actions rooted in faith as cultivated by his alma mater, it all seems to be rubbing off well on his wards.

      Knowing when to reach for his bag of fundamentals backed by a couple of legendary assistant coaches, or into his pockets thick with motivational thrusts that he himself embodies to nurture his players, it is a line from Robert Pirsig’s seminal work that comes to mind to contextualize the Green Archers’ current stop along the road to title defense. A line espoused by Coach Sauler during his early forays into social media, pertaining to the flawed nature of striving for values and ideals: “The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

      Silence wielded well is stronger than the reckless exercise of power, Coach Sauler adds to the mix. Because truth often remains elusive in the wild, frenzied hoops spectacle that is UAAP men’s basketball; where a team reigning over the first round of eliminations has on more than a few occasions found itself catching the last couple of games of the season from the comforts of home.

      But at the tail end of a 6-game run and more formidable opponents to be faced, there are a few concrete truths we can hold onto with certainty: that nothing comes close to the atmosphere of an Ateneo-La Salle game, that good hardnosed basketball always trumps theatrics, and that taking the crown from these proud and ever-hungry defending champions who do all their talking on the court will never be that easy.

        4 1046

        Every La Salle headline and article in the broadsheets and the Internet describe the Green Archers with adjectives like: depleted, injured or limited rotation. It has been almost a month (July 20 versus Ateneo) since all 14 available Archers suited up to play. Such has been the predicament for the defending champions that the team has already learned how to maximize the contributions of all healthy players.

        Despite lacking in manpower, only two teams, Far Eastern U and Ateneo have given blemish to La Salle’s win-loss record and last Sunday was the perfect time to exact payback against the Blue Eagles. Scheduling, pairing and venue issues aside, the Sunday battle of the defending champions DLSU against their Katipunan counterparts had the makings of an instant classic.

        The Green Archers led as much as 13 but it was not until the final buzzer sounded that La Salle was able to avenged its first round defeat against the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles, 88-86 in 40 exciting minutes.

        DLSU leaned on a strong first half to gain the early edge before holding off several comeback attempts by the Eagles. Behind 15 first quarter points by Jeron Teng, the Green Archers dictated the first 10 minutes of play, limiting Ateneo to 4 of 18 shooting to lead by nine, 19-10. All nine points proved crucial as the Eagles outscored La Salle 25-26, 22-25 and 22-25 the rest of the way.

        Julian Sargent got the start and was tasked to guard UAAP leading scorer Keifer Ravena. The rookie used his length and size to completely shutdown Ateneo’s main gunner in the first quarter and together with Robert Bolick forced the King Eagle to a poor shooting night, going eight for 23 from the field.

        Julian also made the Ateneo defense work, scoring on several spectacular layups, going 5 of 7 from the field for 11 points to go along with three rebounds.

        Compared to the first game against AdMU, Teng took four less shots (16 versus 20), but was more effective and aggressive. The Season 76 finals MVP paced La Salle’s offense with 32 points, six rebounds and five assists with more than half of his output coming from the charity stripe.

        Finally showing the confidence and consistency lacking in years past, Jeron went 17 for 20 from the line, including timely makes which thwarted every Ateneo rally. Jason Perkins continued his mastery of his Ateneo defenders, finishing with 18 points, on 7/11 shooting and 10 rebounds.

        Even with Ravena hitting every shot in the second quarter, the Archers still managed to take the lead at halftime, 44-36 with Teng, Perkins and Rivero each scoring six points to negate Ravena’s 15.

        Perhaps reacting to coach Juno Sauler’s comments about “the Blue Eagle’s ability to sell fouls”, the referees allowed a much more physical game compare to the teams’ first encounter.

        The calls were fair though as I recall no foul called when Jason got tripped by a fallen Atenean and lost possession of the ball, while on the other end, Perkins could have easily been called a foul when Chris Newsome hit a banked three pointer with 3 seconds to play.

        La Salle got called for 22 fouls resulting in 24 free throws for Ateneo, a stark contrast to the round one where the Archers were whistled for 29 fouls and gave up 35 freebies.

        Green Archers never stop… Executing

        Looking at the final tally, aside from the +6 advantage in free throws made and +8 in attempts, the match was pretty even in other aspects. DLSU had the slight 44-43 edge in rebounds while both teams had 16 assists and same number of made field goals (30).

        With neither team giving an inch and the score tight at the closing moments, execution mattered more than statistics. With 2:06 to go and an Ateneo double team covering him, Teng found an open Sargent from the opposite corner for a three-point shot and 81-77 lead.

        Ateneo made back-to-back baskets to tie the game at 81-all before Jeron split his free throws and Perkins hit a long jumper with three seconds left on the shot clock for the go-ahead basket.

        Curiously, La Salle gave up the same number of three-point shots to Ateneo as they did during the first round with 10. Only this time, the Archers made sure that they have an answer to every ADMU rally to extend their current winning streak to six and a share of first place in the standings.

        Green Archers never stop… Defending

        As a team, La Salle allowed 11 less points compared to the opening round of the tournament. The Green Archers were also able to limit the individual contributions of several Blue Eagles who played well during the first round. Big men Fonso Gotladera and Arvin Tolentino combined for 17 points, way below their 31 point production last game.

        Ateneo sniper Von Pessumal, who scorched DLSU with 21 last time around was a marked man and was limited to 10 points by the Lasallian perimeter players.

        The hussle on the defensive end by Sargent and Bolick on Ravena took its tool in the final canto as the visibly tired Ateneo shooting guard was held to four points, including an air ball with less than two minutes to go. Ravena was also held below well below his season average of 11 free throw attempts, looking somewhat human by going 4-for-8 from the charity stripe.

        Green Archers never stop… Contributing

        Aside from defense, Bolick, a second year guard, also scored a career-high 10 points, highlighted by two triples in the second half and three assists.

        Despite his cut finger not yet fully healed, the ball still found its way towards Norbert Torres in the post. In limited minutes, the Bear scored only two points but grabbed nine rebounds. His presence prevented the Atenean big men from clogging the lane, giving Jeron and Sargent space for their drives.

        It will be another six days before the Green Archers get back to the hard court, a Saturday playdate against University of the Philippines. This stretch gives our recuperating players more time to prepare, get better and reintegrate to coach Juno’s rotation. While the team chooses to ignore the significance of the six-game winning streak, one thing is certain, the Green Archers never stop winning.

          5 738

           

          There was an explosion in the first quarter by one player and a scoring binge in the second by another. There were shots that were tightly-contested, that arched high over the basket, probably hit a satellite or two, before swishing through the net. There was a booming triple by one side that was quickly answered by the other, which sent one side of the Smart-Araneta Coliseum into pandemonium and quickly hushed the other. There were made acrobatic shots that made you shake your head, and shots that barely drew iron. And, of course, like your favorite TV show, there was drama.

          But in the end, it was a pull-up jumpshot, with the shot clock expiring, along with some pressure packed free throws, that finally spelled the difference between the two competing teams.

          It was a war of attrition, and the Green Archers were the survivors.

          Jason Perkins hit a jumper with 31 seconds remaining to put La Salle ahead by three points, 84-81, and despite a frenzied rally from Ateneo’s Chris Newsome, who scored a lay-up and nailed a three-pointer in the dying seconds, clutch free throws from Jeron Teng, Perkins, and Almond Vosotros kept the Blue Eagles at bay to give La Salle the win, 88-86, to start their second round campaign in UAAP Season 77 on a high note.

          The win by La Salle, coupled with FEU’s win earlier in the day against NU, forces a three-way logjam at the top of the standings, with La Salle, FEU, and Ateneo now having identical 6-2 win loss records.

          Perkins may have made the all-important basket, but it was Teng who was agressive from the opening tip, scoring a season-high 32 points, while adding six rebounds, five assists, and a steal. 17 of his 32 came from the line, as he shot 17-for-20 from the charity stripe for an 85% clip. Not to be outdone, Perkins finished with a double-double of 18 points, 10 boards, and an assist.

          Teng started the game with fearless drives to the basket, several trips to the line, and even a three-pointer as he scored 15 of La Salle’s 19 points in the first quarter, while Ateneo struggled early on. Then came the onslaught of Kiefer Ravena, the league’s leading MVP candidate, who did not score in the first canto but poured 15 in the second on an array of floaters and difficult jumpshots, even as he was shadowed by Julian Sargent and Robert Bolick.

          La Salle’s lead, which was as high as 13 in the second period, the last at 36-23 with about three minutes remaining, was whittled down to just eight at the break after a Ravena triple near the halftime buzzer.

          Ateneo drew even closer at the start of the third as Nico Elorde and Arvin Tolentino came alive in the period and the Blue Eagles adjusted their defense on Teng. But the extra attention given to the reigning Finals MVP  meant that someone was open, and he constantly found Bolick and Perkins for baskets to pad their lead.

          Ravena, Elorde, and Von Pessumal, however, continued to make baskets, and two charities by Pessumal finally knotted the count at 61, less than two minutes left in the period. But a split at the line by Rivero, a basket by Sargent, and another score by Teng allowed the Archers to take a five point lead heading into the fourth.

          La Salle enjoyed a seven-point spread, 68-61, at the start of the fourth after a jumper by Teng, but Newsome, Gwayne Capacio, and Gideon Babilonia teamed up for a 16-5 Ateneo run for them to notch a 75-73 lead midway through the payoff period. Teng, Perkins, and Rivero once again scored and shoved La Salle in the driver’s seat, but free throws by Ravena allowed the Eagles to draw close. Norbert Torres canned two charities and Sargent rifled in a triple from Teng that sent the La Salle crowd into a frenzy and gave them an 81-77 lead with 2:06  left, which seemed a luxury at that point.

          But Ravena and Ponso Gotladera scored for Ateneo to forge what would be the game’s last deadlock. Teng had a split on the line, and a lane violation on his second free throw was called a jumpball. Players from both sides jockeyed for position. The jumpball was done two times. Possession was then awarded to La Salle, which was then overturned, as it was apparently a violation on Torres during the jump that was spotted, giving the ball to the Blue Eagles.

          Ravena had the ball in his hands, at the top of the key, less than a minute left and the game hanging precariously in the balance. He shot a three-pointer over Vosotros, but the ball hit nothing but air, and La Salle corralled the rebound which led to Perkins’ jumpshot and the game-turning play.

          The Eagles found Ravena once more in the ensuing Ateneo possession, but missed again on a drive, and free throws by Teng, Perkins, and Vosotros sealed the win for La Salle despite a Newsome-fueled fightback from the Eagles. Bolick, Sargent, and Rivero were likewise huge for the Archers, scoring 11, ten, and nine points, respectively, as they held the fort for several Archers who were injured or just came from injuries and did not play heavy minutes.

          Ravena, who was clearly gassed at the end of the game after playing all but three minutes in the contest, led the Eagles with 22 points, six boards, and six assists, though he shot 8-for-23 and made only half of his free throws. Newsome added 15 points, five boards, three assists, and two steals, while Elorde finished with 14 markers, five rebounds, and five dimes. Pessumal and Gotladera added ten apiece for the Blue Eagles, with Gotladera pulling down a game-high 15 boards.

          Notes: Norbert Torres, who suffered a laceration on his finger in La Salle’s previous game against UST, started for the Archers and played for 17 minutes, scoring two points and hauling nine rebounds; Kib Montalbo, who suffered a calf injury also in the UST game, played for two minutes, while Terrence Mustre, nursing a wrist injury, played for only 17 seconds in the second period; Arnold Van Opstal, who has been out since La Salle’s game against Adamson, was in uniform but did not play; Thomas Torres was not in uniform and did not play for the Archers.

          The Next Game:  The Green Archers will try to go for their seventh straight win against the UP Fighting Maroons, this Saturday, August 23, 2pm at the MOA Arena.

          The Scores:

          La Salle- 88 –Teng-32, Perkins-18, Sargent-11, Bolick-10, Rivero-9, Vosotros-6, Torres, N.-2, Tratter-0, Montalbo-0, Mustre-0

          Ateneo-86- Ravena, K.-22, Newsome-15, Elorde-14, Gotladera-10, Pessumal-10, Tolentino-7, Capacio-6, Babilonia-2, Ravena, T.-0, Apacible-0, Lim-0

          Quarterscores: 19-10, 44-36, 66-61. 88-86

            8 241

            The De La Salle Green Archers will try to win its 6th straight game as they go up against the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles. After a 0-2 start, the Archers found their groove during the middle part of the first round. La Salle finished the first round with a strong 5-2 record. That is good enough for a triple-tie for second place, and just a game behind first place. Ateneo has been a surprise this year, as the Eagles soared for a 6-1 record to end the first round on top. ADMU defeated DLSU 97-86 during the first round, and the Archers would love to win the second round matchup against their first round tormentors. A win against the Eagles will give the Archers a share of first place, definitely a good way to start the second round of the season.

            Keys to the Game:

            Defend the perimeter

            The Eagles had a field day during the first round matchup against the Archers, shooting, and making, threes at will. Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal and Arvin Tolentino rained threes during that fateful Sunday morning/lunch-time as the lead of the Eagles ballooned during the fourth quarter. La Salle had a hard time guarding the perimeter during some of its games in the first round, evident in its losses against FEU and Ateneo where the shooters of our opponents went nuts. La Salle struggled at times when it used a zone defense this season, so a man-to-man defense might be used against the Eagles this time around. With a thinner rotation thanks to several injuries to the other players, conditioning is the key and the remaining healthy Archers should be ready to play more minutes than usual.

            Make it rain from downtown!

            La Salle has been struggling so far from the three-point range this season, making just 27/122 three-point shots for only 22.1%, just 6th in the league in three-point percentage. During the first 7 games, Almond Vosotros shot 12/45 from the three-point area. He struggled during the first few games of the first round before making some three-point shots during garbage time against UP. Matt Salem has yet to hit a three this season. Robert Bolick was just 1/14 from downtown during the first round. Hopefully, La Salle can shoot better from the perimeter during the second round. DLSU just shot 6/28 from the three-point region during the first round match against Ateneo, while the Eagles shot 10/27 from that region during that game. With Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres out for the game this Sunday, La Salle needs its three-point shooting more than ever. Aside from Vosotros, Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent can also hit the three-point shot, and hopefully our outside shots will fall in the absence of some of our post presence.

            Rebounding

            Ateneo outrebounded a much taller DLSU squad, 51-50 during the first round. And we had our twin towers during that game. With the twin towers out, gang(green)-rebounding is the key. We still have Jason Perkins, one of the best rebounders in the league. Hopefully, Hefty Lefty can have a huge rebounding game against the Eagles this weekend. Rookie Abu Tratter and veteran Yutien Andrada will be called upon to deliver the boards. And don’t be surprised to see Jeron Teng and Prince Rivero play the power forward position from time to time during this game to make up for the absence of our big guys.

            Turnovers

            There were times during the first round that the Archers turned the ball over way too many times, specifically during the infamous UE game. With their strong first round showing and with the depleted line-up of the Archers, Ateneo is considered the favorite for this game, so La Salle can’t afford to give a lot of extra possessions to the Blue Eagles. With all three of our point guards, Thomas Torres, Kib Montalbo and Terrence Muste, out for this game, it’s up to Almond Vosotros, rookie Julian Sargent, Robert Bolick and even Jeron Teng to handle the ball for the Green and White. Don’t be surprised, in a cruel twist of irony, if the Eagles will try to press the Archers from time to time in hopes of getting fast break opportunities.

            Stop the other Eagles

            Kiefer Ravena is the runaway favorite to win the MVP this season. He will get his numbers. If we can limit him to just around 16 points, that would be good enough for me! The key is to stop his supporting cast. Von Pessumal, Arvin Tolentino and Fonzo Gotaldera all stepped up for the Eagles during the first round game against the Archers. If the Archers can stop the supporting cast of the Eagles, like maybe just one of them outside of Kiefer will score in double-digits, and the other key players will just score in the 7-point range, then the Archers would be in good shape this Sunday.

            Closing Notes:

            Last year, we ended the first round with a 3-4 mark. This year, we improved on that with a solid 5-2 record. The story for most of the first round was it’s a 6-way race to the Final Four. After the first round, some would say that the top 4 teams already got one foot inside the Final Four bus, with UE and UST hoping for a minor miracle to crash the party. As Coach Juno Sauler also stresses, we take it one game at a time, one possession at a time, and the key is to constantly improve from day-to-day. Hopefully, the Archers can build from the strong first round showing and continue to build momentum during the second round as they try to get the coveted twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.

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              The diehard supporters of the Green Archers now breathe a bit easier.

              After stumbling at the start of the tournament by losing their first two games, the repeat-seeking Green Archers have climbed back into contention at the end of the first round. Recovering nicely from the morale-deflating initial setbacks, the Archers won the next 5 games, a couple of nail-biters against expected contenders NU and UE, followed by blowouts against bottom dwellers ADU and UP, and a tough one against UST.

              A Not-So-Good Start

              Coming from successful stints where the team captured championships in the last 3 tournaments they participated in (UAAP76, PCCL, Fil-Oil), the Archers were generally seen as a good bet to retain the title. However, at first glance, the title-retention prospects of the team seemed rocky as the team staggered to a 0-2 start.

              Our first two games were against playoff prospects FEU and Ateneo, and in these games the Archers started off brightly, running off to good first quarters, averaging 23 points and typically dominating the proceedings. In the second canto of both games, the team suffered a letdown of sorts, averaging only 13.5 points and allowing the opponents to gain confidence and narrow the gap. The Archers allowed the Tams and Blue Eagles to keep pace in the 3rd, where we scored 22 points in both games while the opponents matched our output. It was in the crucial final 10 minutes of both games where we let the game slip from our grasp by allowing the opponents to average 30.5 points while we only averaged 21.5 points.

              Both of the first 2 games were high scoring affairs, 77-82 vs FEU and 86-97 against Ateneo. We tried to win via shootouts in these two games, but ultimately fell short. The two losses left many wondering whether the team had what it takes to defend the title. To compound the situation, starting point guard Thomas Torres went down with a fractured ankle to reduce our lineup to 13 players. Thomas was initially ruled out for the rest of the season, but after a few days the prognosis was revised to around 6 weeks.

              Finally Getting Our Bearings

              The third game against unbeaten NU was viewed as the first litmus test of the ability of the Archers to contend. The two defeats had shaken the confidence of some supporters. But the Archers finally got their game going, using this game to make a statement that they could not yet be counted out. The Archers came out determined to prove the naysayers wrong, engaging NU in a drag down, slow paced, low scoring slugfest which ended in our favor by a slim 57-55 decision. This time the Archers kept their nerve in the face of NU’s determined comeback and earned a confidence-boosting first victory despite Jeron Teng having a really bad day with just 2 points. Jason Perkins’ end-game heroics saved the day for the green-and-white, while handing NU their first loss. Notable in this loss was the failure of the Green Archers to sink any 3point attempts, as they went 0/16.

              Up next was 2-0 UE, which was led by the high scoring Sumang and hulking center Mammie, piloted by the brothers Pumaren, both former DLSU coaches who espouse the full-court press. UE has won the first two games via blowouts, and loomed as a very tough opponent. True enough, they piled on the pressure from the tip-off, forcing the Archers into a horrendous 34 errors. They battled the Archers on even terms for the first half, but broke away by 10 after 3 to threaten hand us our third loss. That’s when the Archer fighting spirit came to the fore, as the Archers overwhelmed UE in the final 10 minutes, 24-12 to win by just a basket. Again the Archers misfired from afar, making only 1/11 from beyond the arc. Our inability to attack the zone with outside shooting appeared to be an invitation for teams to go zone against us. Again, the Archers handed a previously unbeaten opponent their first loss.

              Up next was rookie-laden Adamson, which sure enough tried the zone against us. Actually, it’s all they could realistically do, as they were outmatched man-to-man with our players. This one was an expected walk in the part and the Archers did not disappoint, romping to a comfortable 67-48 victory to nail their third victory. Centers AVO and Norbert Torres were held out due to injuries, forcing Coach Juno to field his entire lineup. This was Kib Montalbo’s breakout game, and he scored 18 points on a highly effective 9/12 from the field. Prince Rivero scored in double digits to provide support, but we continued to misfire from afar (3/15) although we were much more accurate closer to the basket.

              UP was our penultimate opponent, and Jeron Teng made sure that the outcome would not be at risk as he exploded for 20 points in the first half alone, before finishing with 25. The Archers shredded the net for 50 points in the first 20 minutes, then coasted in the 2nd half with just 24 points to easily win 74-53.

              Last year’s finals opponent UST was our last opponent, and while we won it, this victory was marred by two injuries to Norbert (cut) and Kib (calf muscle). UST gave us all we could handle for almost 3 quarters, before the Archers overwhelmed the Tigers in the 3rd to repeat their mastery over the Espana-based dribblers, 83-70. This was a testy match featuring some trash talking and taunting, including an unsavoury comment by the UST coach against Jason Perkins.

              What was the key?

              First off, defense. Games are won by the team which has at least one more point than the opponents, and we managed to do that in our last 5 games. It wasn’t pretty, but the Archers got it done.

              In the first two games, both losses, the Archers gave up an average of 89.5 points against FEU and Ateneo. Probably the highest scores of our opponents in Coach Juno’s entire stint with La Salle.

              In the last 5 games, the Archers’ defense allowed opponents only 56.8 points, an impressive drop of almost 33 points. We played contenders NU, UE, and UST, so it can’t be said that our opponents in this 5-game stretch were pushovers. Our offensive output actually dropped from the first 2 games (81.5 ppg) to 68.2 points per game over the last 5, a reduction of 13.3 points per game. Our players learned to play honest man-to-man defense and rarely allowed penetrations or easy baskets; the opponents had to literally bleed for their points.

              One of the reasons frequently cited for our losses was the zone – ours. Teams which know how to attack the zone will utilize quick ball movement and lots of passing to create gaps where they position their shooters. They will use screens to create some space for gunners, who need only some separation to fire away. FEU got away with 7 treys out of 18 tries while Ateneo made 10/27. Many of these were relatively uncontested, off screens, as our guards invariably went under screens instead of challenging the shooters. Ateneo attacked the zone by quickly rotating the ball around the perimeter, or by a successful drive and kick-out as our defenders sagged in the paint to contest the penetration. The gaps in our zone also allowed them to get several offensive rebounds which they turned into 2nd chance points.

              NU is a good outside shooting team, but we limited them to just 3/17. UE was slightly more successful with 5/14, but our defense forced them to miss 35 out of 50 from inside the arc – they actually shot better from the 3point area than from closer in, because UE ended with a 31% clip. Adamson was held to 32% shooting from the field, and 3/14 (21%) on threes. UP was forced to shoot from outside and they made a decent 4/9, but shot only 15/71 (21%) under pressure from our defenders closer in. UST was a bit of an exception as they nailed 6/22 from afar (27%) and 20/46 inside the 3point area – a good 43.5% clip. However, we did better with 6/19 for 3pointers and 21/38 closer in.

              As mentioned earlier, the drastic difference in points allowed resulted from the ability of our perimeter defenders to prevent open outside shots and funnelling the opponents towards our waiting bigs. If we repeat this year, difficult as it may seem, our defense will will still need to improve further. How? Perhaps by giving different or deceptive looks – opponents call plays when they see our initial setup, but if we can morph that into a different scheme, it negates their called set pattern and they could end up with a broken play. We can still go zone, but selectively, and perhaps a touch of press and traps every so often. Oh yeah, it would be nice to occasionally blitz the pick-and-roll and force the dribbler back towards the half court line.

              The emergence of our bench

              Our starters will always be candidates for all-league positions – AVO at center, Jason at PF, Jeron at SF, Almond at SG, and Thomas at PG. They can compete effectively with any starting five in the league. While we may have a bit of an advantage, the first team can’t do it by themselves for the full 40 minutes.

              While Kib came off the bench in the first 2 games, he has been elevated to the first 5 with the injury of Thomas. Kib’s performance in the last 5 games has shown why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. He ably quarterbacked the team, was effective in setting up the plays, and scored when he was free. Norbert now comes off the bench, but his improvement in both defense and offense has given us a lift. Prince has been a revelation, playing tough on both defense and offense; he will be a mainstay in the very near future with his ability to play both forward positions. Abu is beginning to get used to the game, and held his own against Abdul and even contributed some points. Julian will be a pain in the neck for his counterparts on other teams, with his athleticism, length, and speed, and he can hit the long ones or finish at the rim. Yutien is effective whenever he gets on the court, and will always be a threat under the basket. Robert is aggressive and hardworking, and his energy was finally unleashed against UST where he delivered as a shock trooper to help us get a double digit lead in the second half against UST. Matt has been used sparingly and has been a bit gunshy when he has opportunities to bomb away from afar, while Terrence has seen action in just 2 games. With a bit more action for both, they should be able to contribute.

              Looking forward to the second round

              Much has been said during the pre-season about our depth. The 14-man lineup looked sufficient until we got hit by injuries to Thomas, AVO, Norbert, Terrence, and Kib. In particular, our pgs were decimated against UST when Kib went down, and Terrence was on the bench with a wrist injury. We had to resort to a point-guard-by-committee with Almond, Julian, Jeron, and Jason bringing the ball up. It worked, but it’s not the ideal situation. The Archers still seem vulnerable if any more injuries hit the team, but the coaches have found alternative combinations which minimize the impact of losing our injured players.

              Although the Archers now have a 5-2 record, good enough for 3rd (actually tied for 2nd in terms of W-L), there’s still much to be done. The errors are one area for concern. It’s surprising because the familiarity of the players with each other should reduce the miscommunication that has been evident at times. The team still has a tendency to relax when they get a bit of a lead instead of showing the killer instinct and not letting up until the game result has been decided.

              Admittedly, the team is still far from hitting its peak, but has already shown a lot of improvement in different areas compared to the first two games. Ball movement is crisper, passes are less tentative, the makings of a press break are evident, and the boys seem to know how to attack a zone. They are beginning to know where their teammates will be almost intuitively on both offense and defense. And the composure is beginning to show, that confidence that they can win in the end game; this was so lacking against FEU and Ateneo.

              The challenges posed by the various injuries will still be there, particularly since AVO has missed 5 games already, and reintegrating him might take some adjustment. We also can’t overlook the opponents, who will continue to prepare specifically for us.

              What will make this team successful in defending the title cannot easily be defined. But the small steps, incremental improvements on a game-by-game basis are indicative that the Archers are getting there. They will get better and better with every game. And that is a warning for the competition – it will not be easy to take the title away from this team. Because this team will take it one step at a time, one game at a time.

              The second round starts this Sunday against Ateneo. We will be undermanned, as not all of our players will have fully recovered. Thomas will still be out, AVO is doubtful as is Kib. But despite these setbacks, the Archers have found a way. I think we’ll see more of that on Sunday.

              It will always be ANIMO LA SALLE!