La Salle vs NU Game Reaction: At The Half

Now that the first round of the UAAP men’s basketball eliminations has come to an end, it’s time to sit back and take a closer look at where the Green Archers stand. The first obvious place to look at is the team standings. FEU and UP in a way are spoiling the party, because as of now it is an absolute dogfight for 2nd to 4th place. Three teams tied for second, and three teams tied for fourth.

I can’t recall the last time the team standings were this ridiculously close. Sure all the doomsayers are again fueled not just by our loss to NU to close out the first round, but because we’re not in the top 4. But aside from FEU, at this point who is really is, with just a single win separating the next six teams?

Repeating that over and over again is the only way the insanely tight team standings make sense to me: a single win. Needless to say, it’s way too early for mapping out and creating final four scenarios and formulas. And I don’t see anybody handing the championship trophy to the Tamaraws just yet. FEU coach Nash Racela probably said it best: “The season isn’t over.” Far from it, only halfway done, if I may add.

The next logical place to visit is the overall team statistics, both offensively and defensively. This will be a mixed bag of surprises, reassurances and clarity in terms of the areas that need to be improved. But as I write this I am aware this is more for the benefit of the team’s supporters, because I am certain the La Salle coaching staff has gone over every category and statistic more times than I’ve wished we were at 7-0 instead in the past two days.

Aside from being the second highest scoring team (now who says we don’t have any offense?), we are also second in the league in rebounds, points in the paint, turnover points, and fastbreak points. The team ranks third in field goal shooting (both collectively and separately in 2-point and 3-point shooting), perimeter points, steals and blocked shots. Before anyone out there loses their head screaming about free throw shooting, I myself was surprised to find that we’re not even the 2nd worst free throw shooting team. We rank sixth in that category, ahead of UE and Adamson. And in terms of assists, we’re at fourth, hopefully quelling some, if not majority, of notions that the Archers don’t play team ball.

But numbers can be deceiving in several ways. While the team does score 74.3 points a game, their opponents manage 74.0, a clear reflection of the many closely contested games we’ve played and our win-loss record. But again, our ranking in points allowed is surprisingly not the worst or even second worst in the league. I’m not throwing out all these numbers to say the team should settle for where their current level of play is at, despite ranking well in several categories. Aside from the need to improve their defense to cut down opponents’ scoring, the most glaring statistic is turnovers, where the team ranks 7th.

The hardest aspect to assess is the one concerning “intangibles.” As I’ve often told several people, if some expert out there could find a way to quantify on-court presence and the way a player affects the game just by being on the floor, LA Revilla would definitely be in the top 5 of that category. But of course, since we’re talking about intangibles, this encompasses a lot of other things that involve the team as a collective unit- fighting spirit, determination, desire, and a word that’s being thrown around a lot the past two days in a somewhat negative light in terms of what the team “supposedly” lacks: Animo.

I feel the need to recap the first round in a more simpler way, in light of how all the criticism slung at the Green Archers has evolved from our first game up to Sunday’s loss. We started the season rusty and having to cut down a huge UST lead only to lose in overtime. We then won in a relatively convincing manner against UP, notched a huge character win against Ateneo coming from behind and eventually pulling away, went through the now infamous two-game skid during which the word “meltdown” spread like a forest fire with losses to FEU and UE, won a tightly contested game over Adamson, then closed out the round with another loss to NU.

I don’t just shrug at losses that easily. I don’t enjoy seeing my team lose. Who does? But I still find it very difficult to elevate my displeasure at losing into anger and rage towards the Green Archers and its coaching staff. Did our boys lack the heart and desire to win against NU? Sure we got off to a very slow start which set the tone for the entire game, but wasn’t that Thomas Torres (also the team’s leading rebounder for that game with 9 by the way) who made a gutsy three point shot to cut the deficit to 3 with 17 seconds left? The team didn’t just roll over and die and let the Bulldogs run away with the win. They fought until the end from where I was seated. I do understand the heightened frustration, because admittedly that was the worst game we played so far, having been used to losing by giving up leads or in overtime.

Again, it goes without saying that the team needs to improve on a number of aspects. They turned the ball over way too many times agains (though surprisingly NU had more turnovers than we did), a lot of which came from ill-advised passes either coming from the post because of double teams, or sloppy passes to our big men while posting up. This need to improve their halfcourt offensive sets and plays is directly connected to how NU fought for every rebound (with Parks and Villamor grabbing 14 and 10 respectively), never allowing our boys to establish their running game. The Archers were also unable to control the tempo the way they usually do by pushing the ball hard, because even if NU only really won the overall rebounding battle by 4, 46-42, I immediately noticed how even if they were not in perfect position to crash the boards, they exerted extra effort to tap the ball or knock it away from The Archers’ hands which again was their way of neutralizing the fast-paced running game of La Salle.

As for the evolution of all the criticism, I am again dumfounded at how every aspect has now been fully covered. After harping on and on about free throw shooting and giving up leads (which inevitably led to skepticism about the team’s mental composure), then coach Sauler’s lack of intensity and a semblance of a system, we have now not only entered the realm of doubting the shot selection of the likes of Almond Vosotros (I’m sorry but that is one player who has proven his worth in my book many times over, and I’ll willingly live and die with his three point shooting) but the team’s fighting spirit as well.

With all of that in mind, all the statistics, the game breakdowns, the box scores, the scrutiny and criticism, our team is still right in the thick of the fight in the standings. And how on earth could we have had so many tightly contested games if our boys and the coaching staff didn’t have any semblance of a system or the desire to win? Just pure luck? I find it preposterous to question any of that at this point.

But as I keep saying, this team has yet to play consistently at the level we all want them to be. I sure as hell know the team isn’t settling for where they’re at as well. This break in between rounds is a much needed one to go over a lot of things. Maybe as we root for our national team, we could go over a few things as well, being supporters of the Green Archers. Animo can mean a lot of things- passion, the fighting spirit within a player or a team, all the intangibles that turn good teams into championship caliber ones.

Instead of being skeptical about the entire team regarding this aspect because of how our boys have proven it in many little ways in spite of the fruits of labor not yet manifested through wins, I simply choose to decide that what Animo means for me is to keep supporting and believing in this team with everything I’ve got. Notice how the words “we” and “our” always come up when we talk about the Green Archers. Because we are all certainly deeply invested emotionally in how the team performs. Which is why I understand the frustration and criticism of most, but not the sill extent of it all. Indeed, this is our team. That’s why I choose to stand by it in the manner that I have done so far. I am not one to settle for our team being “just good enough” nor do I make blind excuses for the inexcusable, but the time for pushing the panic button, questioning character, the lack of a system, etc. is not upon us just yet.

Taking one last look at the team standings and how tight this season’s race is, with our win-loss record and how all those defeats were all relatively winnable, I keep wishing we could have even just a second crack at all those teams because I know our players and coaches will adjust accordingly. I know this team will prove what it’s made of, if given just a second chance against those teams that beat us. Oh right, that’s what the second round is for after all.