August 14. Almond Vosotros launched an off-balance floater near the baseline that danced a couple of times above the rim before going through the net, allowing the Green Archers to escape the Adamson Falcons by the skin of their teeth in overtime and begin their second round campaign on a winning note. But the victory was far from satisfying, as La Salle was outrebounded and outplayed for most of the game by the Falcons before outlasting them in the extra session. Questions still swirled around this team and whether they can finish games with endgame poise and pile up enough wins to catch the Final Four bus.
Exactly a month later and this same team finds itself tied for first in the standings and locking horns with the FEU Tamaraws for a play-off for a twice-to-beat advantage after having swept the second round. But looking at the statistics, there aren’t many categories where La Salle is lording it over against other teams, because not all of the reasons for their winning run of seven games can be glimpsed from the statsheet.
Here are 7 reasons for the Green Archers’ remarkable 7-game winning streak in the second round of UAAP Season 76:
7. Jason Perkins’ continued improvement
Perkins already put up commendable numbers during the first round, averaging 10.7 points (on 48.3 percent shooting) and 8.7 rebounds, but the Hefty Lefty has further improved his game in the Archers’ last seven games.
He actually paced La Salle in scoring during the second round by dropping 14.7 per game (on a 56.7 shooting clip), while also grabbing 10.4 boards for a double-double average. And although Perkins’ free throw percentages have dipped from the first round, his 7-for-9 sniping from long distance serves as a notice to opponents that he has improved another weapon to his arsenal.
6. Emergence of the second stringers
Thomas Torres, LA Revilla, Luigi Dela Paz, and Oda Tampus have all been sidelined in different games for health reasons (Thomas was suspended for the game against Ateneo), and this is bad news for a team with only thirteen players in its line-up.
The shock troopers for Coach Juno Sauler, however, have made the most out of the opportunities handed to them. Kib Montalbo has rewarded Sauler’s trust with quality minutes, averaging 9.7 minutes, 1.6 points, and 1.3 rebounds in ten games after logging in only 3.3 minutes per contest (and never scoring a single point nor grabbing a rebound) during the first round.
Matt Salem, Tampus, and Gabby Reyes have likewise seen their minutes increase during the second round and have ably filled their roles, giving Sauler the luxury to be more flexible with his rotation of players.
5. Jeron Teng’s improvement and clutch-ness
Teng’s shooting percentage, rebounding, and assist numbers are down from the first round, so why is one of the biggest reasons for La Salle’s torrid run in the second round? Two things: He has cut down on his turnovers (from 3.6 in the first round to just 1.8) and has markedly improved his free throw shooting (from 38.7% to 61.5% in the team’s last seven games).
His 5-for-8 showing from the line in overtime helped complete La Salle’s comeback against the Red Warriors, while his four free throws with under two minutes remaining allowed his team to survive the league-leading Bulldogs. And what does he do at the endgame when he’s not sinking pressure-packed charities? He’s making all-important baskets, like that floater over his elder brother Jeric against UST, that putback off his own miss against NU, and that turnaround jumper over Chris Newsome against Ateneo.
4. Juno Sauler’s coaching
His smiles are few and far in between and his answers to questions by the media are terse and to-the-point, but make no mistake: Juno Sauler is an able tactician, and he has showed that during the telling second round streak of the Archers. He inserted Arnold Van Opstal in the starting line-up against NU that took Jean Mbe out of his game, instructed La Salle to take a quick shot with twenty-three ticks left in overtime against Adamson to get multiple cracks at the basket (and they did), and trusted Teng, who had previously made only a single field goal, to ‘make a good decision’ and take the game-winning shot against Ateneo.
His wards were actually down at the half in four of their seven wins, a testament that Sauler can likewise make crucial adjustments during the game.
3. Endgame composure
A lay-up by UST’s Karim Abdul whittled La Salle’s lead to two points, 57-59, with under five minutes remaining, and La Salle responded by uncorking a five-nil run of their own to pad their lead to seven. Against FEU, a trifecta by RR Garcia cut their lead down to two, 64-62, halfway through the fourth, and their reply was anything but meek: a 7-0 blast spiked by a Vosotros triple to bring their lead back to nine.
Nine was also the advantage that they overhauled against the Bulldogs, as the Archers stared at a 52-43 deficit with five minutes left in the contest, before outscoring them 14-3 the rest of the way. La Salle is finally learning to close out games, and it couldn’t have come at a better as the stakes have become higher as they enter the Final Four.
Last year’s Green Archers was the league’s best defensive team, yielding only around 64 points per game, so it was surprising that La Salle finished the first round surrendering an average of 74 points, while also scoring 74.3 of their own.
Their scoring has declined to 71 points per game in the second round, but they more than made up for it by tightening their defensive screws and limiting their opponents to a stingy 63.7 points per game, making sure that that preventing their opponents to score remains a cornerstone of their game as in previous years.
1. A Constantly Improving, Hardworking Mentality
Whenever Coach Juno or an Archer is interviewed after a game at the press room, the word ‘Improvement’ is constantly being mentioned, and this word has encapsulated their mindset in the second round. When asked if there is a sense of accomplishment after having swept the second round, Sauler said that there is no sense of accomplishment for him because he thinks that what the team does in practice is more important than results.
La Salle is far from a perfect team, and is still prone to making mistakes. But this is a team that acknowledges its flaws, and are working on each of them, one practice at a time, to turn these flaws into strengths. And it is this blue-collar mentality that has elevated them from being mired into a tie for the fifth to seventh places to a tie for the first place and what promises to be an explosive Final Four series against the FEU Tamaraws.