As everyone would say, it was the game that got away for the Green Archers. Yes, I have to agree with those people that it was a sorry miss for La Salle to get that third win against an unbeaten, veteran Far Eastern University team. But then, I think it will be better to put this as a hard sucker punch roadblock that the team had to endure if they want to reach greatness in college or in Philippine basketball history books. There is no easy way getting to the top of anything that we pursue, whether in everyday living or in sports.
We face a lot of competitors everyday trying to reach that same goal of becoming great in what we do. Just like in the UAAP, almost all teams have great athletes trying to bring greatness to their respective schools and to their individual athletic careers of course after school. This was just the case of Romeo and Garcia (the two well-known de-facto leaders of FEU) wanting it more to win for the Tamaraws, more than the Green Archers did last Saturday.
I will start with the good for this issue of game reactions. Just like in the Ateneo game, the La Salle bigs were able to establish their presence inside the paint in the game as it gave Hargrove and Sentcheu a hard time getting their rhythm since both were in foul trouble. I am more of happy getting Hargrove into early foul trouble as he is one of those FEU players that have low post moves and positions well without the basketball, enough to give DLSU problems inside the shaded lane. Sentcheu, on the other hand relies on drop passes only so if you avoid the dribble-drive penetration, you don’t have to worry him getting this points unless of course you don’t box him out as he will get an opportunity to score from second chance attemts.
Arnold’s inside game from the post coupled by Jeron’s relentless penetration gave FEU problems on defense and allowed DLSU to get open looks to its perimeter shooters. Even Perkins had two triples in this game just to shake things up from his usual low post presence. I also loved the way Jeron’s 12-14 footers came in as part of his offense last Saturday since this also made FEU adjust deeper on defense, which gave Luigi, Thomas, and Almond open looks from the outside, despite of course Almond getting an off-game that day.
With FEU having to use most of its hybrid wingmen to patrol the paint, I liked the attitude of the Archers relentlessly using the paint as its primary option on offense, whether dumping it to Arnold or Jeron driving down the lane was good to watch. I expect to see more ball rotation though moving forward since it will be better if when Jeron drives down deep in the paint, if he can make it faster to look for his shooters standing around the perimeter, it will help the Archers’ offense. Should Jeron decide to attempt for those 12-14 footer shots of his, then that would be okay as well for the team.
On defense, I liked the way the team defended Romeo, Tolomia, and Garcia for majority stretches of the game. Just like what I mentioned in my pre-game notes, all three start and always get their game rhythm if their perimeter game was clicking. Personally, all three got their baskets from the perimeter but it was not that comfortable for them to get their shots easily. Except for Romeo’s back to back threes which started their fight back, everything else, FEU’s guards had to work hard for their shots in last Saturday’s game.
I will start with what everyone has been pointing out into since time immemorial, the free throws. If you will ask my opinion about this, I will always answer you that this is all mental. Why? Players always make their free throws in practices and in warm-ups. This craft will always be perfected thru individual perseverance, overcoming the habit of missing free throws in actual games. If someone says to me that it’s all about the form, I will always say to that person that he should take a look how Peja Stojakovic (Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks) has been taking his free throws. Heck, let’s not go anywhere but in local basketball scene, have you guys seen how Coaches Leo Austria and Leo Isaac took their free throws then?
The team knows this issue and in fairness, the percentages have been better thru time compared to the past seasons. I agree that this problem of missing free throws has to be addressed especially on Jeron’s part since every game; he will definitely be fouled often because of his playing style of aggressively attacking the paint. We can crucify the team for all we want on this aspect but there are so many aspects more to control in a basketball game aside from free throw shooting.
Another point of discussion was the adjustment done having a small frontline during the crucial stages of the fourth quarter. Remember there was a time in the fourth quarter that our frontline consisted of Jeron and Jason. One side of me understands that this was done in order to match FEU’s small frontline then (since they were catching up in the ball game) because the team needed to match its quickness in the floor. But the other side of me is saying that why should I adjust to my opponent, they should be the one adjusting to me. This was the same question back in the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals between Miami and Indiana. Do you leave Roy Hibbert in the floor? Or do you match Miami’s small ball line up and stay with David West instead as the center?
Another problem that I saw last Saturday was FEU was able to convert their offensive rebounds compared to us. Mac Belo had several key offensive putback baskets while for DLSU; we were not able to do. Remember, it was Belo’s and-1 off an offensive rebound which cut the lead to four at 75-71. Those offensive execution efficiencies can also be an important source in winning ball games as well. Shot selection during FEU’s run in the final two minutes were also questionable for the Green Archers except for that sorry miss from Arnold from a time out which could have given DLSU a nine point lead at 77-68. The Archers’ offensive composure slowly disappeared while FEU’s big guns had the mental toughness to finish their escape job.
The Green Archers’ meltdown showed that mentally, there are lots of room to work on for this young squad. This season, the Archers’ scoring are being carried by three youngsters namely Jason (13 ppg), Jeron (17 ppg), and Arnold (11.3 ppg). With a young court general too at Thomas (leading the team this season with 3.5 apg along with Jeron), expect the game last Saturday to become a key lesson along the way for the young Archers. Yes, this is a painful defeat for all of us but for me it will be more important to see how the team will respond to this moving forward.
The critical thing here is that with the level of competition extremely high this season, there is not much choice for the guys but to adjust as quickly as possible in order to correct those mistakes in the past four games (remember, it is not just in losses, the team commits mistakes, even in wins as well). The good thing here is that everyone is stacked up this early part of the season so it gives more opportunity to recover. There are three games left in the first round for the Green Archers, UE, Adamson, and then finally NU. I personally believe that these games are winnable.
Then with the long break ahead because of the FIBA-Asia tournament, it will give the team ample time to discuss and review the first round of the season, which will be the jumping point for a much, much tougher second round of competitions. Let’s not be disheartened or give up on this team just because of that debacle last Saturday. This is our team guys; the best way to do is to support them in good times and in bad times. The team will be tougher experiencing all possible heartaches on the basketball floor. It is better that everything is happening now, rather than in the late stretches come September.