I don’t particularly like kicking other teams when they’re down, but coming into yesterday’s game against UP I wasn’t concerned whether the Green Archers would come away with a win or not. I was more interested to see how they would win.
I hope no one accuses me of arrogance if I admit that I wasn’t really at the edge of my seat even at halftime when UP’s lead stood at seven after a three-point shot by Martin Pascual just beat the buzzer. Let’s call it managed frustration as it was evident that the Fighting Maroons had more energy, hustle and surprising confidence that makes even three-point bank shots seem customary. Maybe it was the clean slate offered by a late-season coaching change but the UP players got to the loose balls more often, had more active hands on defense and displayed uncanny trust in each other, finding the open man for numerous outside shots.
Like everyone else in the thick La Salle crowd, I waited patiently for the Green machine I’ve come to know this season to kick into fifth gear. The usual dominance off the boards, the scrappy team defense, the multi-headed offense that strikes from down the post all the way out to the three-point line, and the energy of a running game that leads the league in points scored off turnovers. And as our boys walked out on the court from the dugout, I knew they wouldn’t disappoint.
For the second straight game I noticed the La Salle players, minus the coaching staff, huddling in front of their bench a few moments before the start of the 3rd quarter to gather themselves and muster up the extra fight needed. And both times it was Jeron Teng who called his teammates to huddle up. Just another fine example of how this is truly a team we’re witnessing, coming together and trusting each other through both wins and losses. No room for finger-pointing or spats after bad plays. Definitely no room for egos or melodramatic divas either.
The Green Archers’ dominant fourth quarter, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a 22-point win, was exactly what I was looking for. Not that anyone should still be surprised at this point, with Jason Perkins, playing like a man amongst boys, and Norbert Torres leading the way with 35 points and 30 rebounds between the two of them. I was especially relieved with Norbert Torres’ performance as it ought to give him the needed confidence to get a consistent streak of games going for him.
And in lieu of handing out the Rookie of The Year award this early despite making a very strong case for it, can someone please give Jason Perkins a nickname instead? Another double-double for him after playing heavy minutes and making it look all so easy.
With the steady play of Arnold Van Opstal, a backcourt bolstered by the energy of Kib Montalbo, and Oda Tampus taking his turn at Sam Marata in the second half with the kind of defense that caused RR Garcia’s first-ever suspension of his UAAP career, I’d like to point out the evolution in the game of two players in particular: Almond Vostros and Jeron Teng.
An obviously marked man from beyond the arc, I’m especially pleased with how Vosotros has developed a mid-range shot which he has shown more and more the past few games after faking off and dribbling past his man then pulling up within the vicinity of the free throw line. Given his size, his rebounding output has also been impressive.
Jeron Teng on the other hand has evolved immensely in a more well-rounded aspect since the season started, obviously accepting his role in coach Juno Sauler’s system, contributing more in other areas like assists and rebounding while finding his offensive moves are most effective in the open court. And his 6-8 performance from the free throw line yesterday was definitely no fluke as his percentage has vastly improved the past three games.
To be honest, I’m glad all the Teng-sanity and King Archer labels have died down compared to last season. As I’ve said previously, it just makes every player in an already relatively deep and reliable rotation ready to step up and play their hearts out.
No muscle flexing, chest pounding or miming Clark Kent ripping his suit open to reveal the Superman logo (ridiculous yet true) after making spectacular plays or sinking game-winning shots; just our players going about their business running the system, playing together and racking up wins. With a three-game winning streak as Final Four slots are clearing up ever so slowly, and round 2 with the Blue Eagles lined up, I wouldn’t have it any other way.