It’s time to dust off those relatively old and near-forgotten “Save The Day, LA” t-shirts.
LA Revilla just tossed his hat in the ring which revolves around that essential question I’m certain opposing teams have started asking themselves at one point or another during the Green Archers’ current 8-game winning streak: “Who exactly do you have to stop on this La Salle team?” Averaging just a shade over four points this season, Revilla exploded for 20 points, going for 6-11 from the three point area. Most impressively, it all came in just 24 minutes of playing time.
Right from the start it was clear what FEU’s game plan was, because the first few times Jason Perkins and Arnold Van Opstal touched the ball, they were either smothered with double or triple teams as soon as they received the pass in the post, or FEU defenders would give help at the exact moment as either one would make a move towards the basket. Similar to the gamble Coach Juno Sauler took in their win against NU by clogging up the inside and allowing the Bulldogs to live and die with the three-point shot, this one didn’t pay off for the Tamaraws.
It was a literal three-point storm in the first two quarters, as our shooters started spreading the floor, with Coach Sauler also ensuring that his five on the floor always had at least two legitimate outside threats, all resulting in 24 of their 37 first half points coming from beyond the arc. The flexibility of this La Salle team’s offense, which normally scores more points inside the paint, has reached frightening proportions (for opponents, of course) with Jason Perkins also taking his game outside and joining in the first-half 3-point party
FEU being the league’s top three-point shooting team held to 5-34 from that area, just 14.7% compared to their average of 28.5%, La Salle’s in your face, pesky team defense likewise turned the tables on the Tamaraws in another aspect where Coach Nash Racela’s boys rank first- taking care of the ball. Also leading the league in fewest turnovers per ballgame, FEU ended up with 16, led by MVP Terrence Romeo’s 5.
Coming into the third quarter and part of the fourth, the Tamaraws tried to clamp down on La Salle’s outside shooting by shifting more often to a man-to-man defense, which inevitably allowed Van Opstal, Perkins and Jeron Teng to get their inside offense going. In the latter half of the final quarter, FEU’s 2-3 zone seemed to be paying off as La Salle just went 1-10 from three-point range in the final 10 minutes. But we all know by now that single basket was the one that counted the most- LA Revilla’s corner 3 with 55 seconds left and in the midst of an FEU rally, propping a precarious 5-point lead back up to 8.
Knowing the mentality of this La Salle team and its coach, they won’t be patting themselves on the back and celebrating with this win. With Coach Sauler’s unyielding emphasis on constant improvement and his ability to make his team adjust not only game to game but on the fly as well, I’m confident they’ve already started working, among other things, on how to cut down turnovers, especially regarding inbound plays down the stretch when FEU’s defense becomes more aggressive, cleaner passes to the post, and establishing better positioning down low, most notably in the case of Norbert Torres.
Coming from the MOA Arena and catching the game on the televised replay, I initially felt every right to have a bone to pick with how some still seem surprised that this La Salle team keeps averting “meltdowns.” Not having lost a game in nearly two months and shaking off all the best blows every other team has had to offer along the way, what else do the Green Archers have to do to prove that their mental toughness is genuine? But then again, overconfidence is the team’s worst enemy at this point.
Plus, it makes for a good story, along with the amazement at Jeron Teng’s improved all-around game and proficiency from the free throw line, ending up with 13 points, 10 rebounds and a team-high 5 assists while going 5-6 from the 15-foot line. Obviously the best climax to that entire storyline (for the team’s supporters), in addition to probably being the only thing really needed to close the door shut on all those first round defeats (for the benefit of critics and naysayers), would be winning the very last game to bring this UAAP season to a close.
So despite all the safely shelved first-round panic buttons, the only way to go as the Green Archers move an inch closer to the ultimate goal is to keep doing what has sustained this title run the most so far-taking it one game at a time, not being content with each game won and focusing on improving for the next one.
With La Salle’s first crack at a return to the finals since 2008 on Wednesday and putting the Tamaraws’ backs against the wall, more than what Coach Sauler will pull out of his bag of tricks next, it would be highly interesting to see the type of game plan FEU comes up with.
La Salle 1, FEU 0. Your move, Nash Racela.