And so the learning continues. The past 3 games saw the Archers achieve a milestone of sorts by taking a morale-boosting, long overdue 82-73 over the defending champions Ateneo, but dropped the next two games in heartbreaking and frustrating fashion, falling anew in overtime to FEU 79-83, and giving up a 10point advantage in the 4th quarter to allow UE to squeak by, 83-85. After 5 games, our W-L record is 2-3, not good if we want to figure prominently in the race to the playoffs, but not bad considering that after FEU, only 1.5 games separate the second placer (UST & ADU at 3-2) from the seventh placer (ADMU at 2-4). We’re right in the mix, just half a game behind NU and UE which are both at 3-3.
So how is the team going along?
In our last 3 games, we’re averaging 81.33 points per game. Our players are starting to make their shots, and our shot selection seems to be improving. From the long court, our 3point accuracy has been going up – against Ateneo we were 3/13, but against FEU we hit 8/26 (30.8%) and this weekend we hit 8/23 (34.8%) against UE. Our shooters are positioning themselves in their sweet spots, and they’re getting the ball on drive-and-draw plays and from quick passing around the perimeter or from the inside-out game of our bigs. The improved team play has also helped raise our 2point fg accuracy, 27/55 (49.1%) against the Blue Eagles, 21/49 (42.9%) vs the Tamaraws, and 28/54 (51.9%) against the Warriors.
The offensive sets have been pretty good, getting the desired shots where our players can do the most with them. Accurate scouting has also allowed the coaches to identify which plays will work against the various defenses being employed by each team.
Assists have not been spectacularly high yet, just 14 out of 30 made fgs against Ateneo, 15 out of 29 made shots against FEU, and 18 out of 36 fgs against UE. But the passing is better.
Our offensive board work has also been good, our frontliners able to crash the offensive glass to the tune of 16 vs an undersized Blue Eagles, 21 against the imports of FEU, and 15 against UE this weekend. We’ve been able to turn our offensive boards into production, 18 against Ateneo, 5 against FEU, and 24 against UE.
Interestingly, our previously turnover-prone Archers have started taking care of the ball better, making 18 against Ateneo before reducing that to 14 and 13 against FEU and UE respectively. However, paradoxically, the two games where we had TOs in the low teens were both losses. Our opponents turned these into their own production: 24 2nd chance points by Ateneo, 17 by FEU, and 13 by UE.
It’s the timing of the turnovers that has been a problem in our losses. Against FEU, we had 6 in the 4th quarter, which FEU converted into 6 points as they rallied to force overtime. 3 of those were by Jeron as he tried to force the issue. Against UE, we had just 2 in the fateful fourth quarter, but one of those by Thomas resulted in a trey by Olivares on the next play that enabled UE to grab the lead.
Our infamous weakness, free throw shooting, has come back to hit us in the worst possible way. We won the Ateneo game missing 15 fts, but we made 19 for 55.9%. Against FEU, we hit only half (13/26), with those 2 Almond misses in the last 2 minutes possibly icing the game for us if they had both gone in. Against UE, we were not as successful in getting to the stripe, getting only 11 attempts but we flubbed 8 of them, especially painful as we lost only by 2 points. In contrast, our opponents are able to make their foul shots against us: Ateneo – 12/15, FEU – 10/11, and UE – 21/24. We’ll not figure prominently in this year’s race unless we can shoot as well as our opponents do from the 15-foot line.
Our trademark defense has not been as good, as the Archers yielded 73 (Ateneo), 83 (FEU), and 85 (UE) in our last 3 games. That’s 80.33 points we’re giving up. We can’t engage opponents in a shootout and expect to win most of our games. Even a weak UP team managed to put up 84 points on the board.
Our perimeter defense has been fairly decent, limiting our opponents’ shooters. ADMU only managed 3/18 (16.7%) from afar, FEU 5/29 (17.2%), but UE was more successful at 6/19 (31.6%) as we packed the paint to try to offset Mammie’s size advantage. From inside the arc, though, opponents have been doing well – the Blue Eagles hit over half of their shots (26/49 for 53%), as did FEU (29/55 = 52.7%), and UE did creditably well also at 23/52 (44.2%).
The defensive schemes and individual assignments have been very good for the majority of the games. Against FEU, for example, our guard corps of LA and Thomas alternated on Romeo and Garcia, frustrating them for 3 quarters before the high scoring Tamaraw duo managed to get away on sheer individual talent for 20 points in the 4th quarter and overtime. The FEU imports were effectively neutralized by our bigs into just 4 points, and Mammie was limited in last weekend’s second half. However, for some strange that both FEU and UE managed to overhaul our double digit leads in the 4th quarters of our games against them, scoring heavily after being held down in the first 30 minutes. Something gives in our defense in the last 10 minutes, and whatever it is, our defense caves in under pressure at crunch time, and our opponents are able to score almost at will.
Our rotation has been short so far, with only Jason, Luigi, and LA seeing regular minutes, and Oda and Kib coming in for spot duty. LA seems to be ailing, and has been a shadow of himself. Luigi has shown indication of being our cold blooded gunner, as he hit two pressure packed long twinners against UE. Oda provides the defensive muscle on opposing guards and small forwards as well as hustle plays. Matt Salem did show up for 7 minutes against UE, and combined with our pgs and Jeron for a couple of pick-and-pop treys to announce his entry. However, he’s a tad slow, perhaps from lack of competitive play, and got outmuscled under by the bigger Mammie. Gab seems to have dropped off the rotation for now.
The team actually has been improving, going by the stats. Our errors are down. Our shooting is up. Our defense seems to be working most of the time, except that we give up a bunch of points. However, the incremental improvements aren’t apparent in the win-loss record, 2-3. We’re achieving some sort of consistency – playing a B+ game for the first 3 quarters before falling to a D or an F in the final quarter. The game plans work for 30 minutes, then the players seems to forget that UAAP basketball is a 40-minute game, and they fold under pressure. At least in the last 2 games, they did.
But what’s heartening is that they’re able to execute for 30+ minutes. If they can do that for all 40 minutes, we probably won’t see many more overtimes or losses. Execution seems to be tied to our ft performance, so if they execute, they’ll probably make their fts also. But that’s a big IF.
They’ll have to maintain that focus, concentration, and alertness for every second of the game until the final buzzer. A momentary lapse can be fatal, as in the case of Thomas when Olivares pressured him into the corner and a fumble. However, those are learning pains. And that should be good in the long run AS LONG AS THE TEAM LEARNS from mistakes like these.
It’s been often said that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
Here’s hoping we see a stronger Green Archers team in the remaining 9 games!