Having not lost since July 28 against NU, I was stunned like everyone else, including the UST Growling Tigers, just as the final buzzer sounded yesterday. It took a while to sink in. Having to wait for the other side of the coliseum to sing their alma mater hymn first and watching their players celebrate as if they already won the championship didn’t help and just stung a little harder. But after all, this is the finals.
Someone like me can only instinctively head to the stat lines and box scores to seek some kind of comfort and take the loss in a quantifiable manner. There wasn’t the usual dominance in the general rebounding department, with La Salle winning out 44-43, but the Green Archers were again beasts on the offensive end of it, 18-7.
It also wasn’t surprising to see that UST shot better from the field, since we can all attribute La Salle’s lower shooting percentage to that sluggish first quarter, going only 5-20 and having to play catch up until around 5 minutes into the second quarter where the game just turned into a dogfight from then on. Maybe I can file that first quarter away and all those relatively easy shots missed under overeagerness more than rust, because the Green Archers took care of the ball pretty well for the entire game, committing only 9 turnovers instead of their usual average of a little over 15.
Maybe I would have liked to see Jason Perkins stay away from those early fouls, something that always prevents him from getting involved in the offense and being a game-changer right from the opening tip. But then again, he did come alive in the second half, eventually ending up with 11 points and 11 rebounds. He was also right there fighting in the endgame, hitting that 3-point shot right at the 2-minute mark to cut UST’s lead to 2.
In the same way, maybe I winced each time Jeron Teng seemed to force the issue– maybe fueled too much by all the Teng vs Teng media buzz– reminding me just a bit of his play early in the season, taking a few ill-advised long range shots as well, in addition to not seeing his usual drop passes and kick outs. But it’s hard to question the fight in his heart as he was also right there at the end, making La Salle’s final points of the game off a 3-point play and bringing the UST lead down to 1 with just a little over a minute left.
Maybe I would have also liked to see Norbert Torres play a better game or La Salle milk the post a little bit more, even if only to enable better ball rotation to find the open shooters against UST’s zone. But the Green Archers did dominate inside the paint offensively for nearly the entire game as Arnold Van Opstal displayed his usual brilliance in the post. As for outside shooting, it was just one of those games wherein the shots just weren’t falling.
And of course, maybe that last play could have gone better. Making my way out the coliseum I inevitably passed huddled groups of La Sallians dissecting those final 29 seconds, rightfully arguing that a 3-point shot was the last thing we needed. It was one play I myself was thinking about up until I caught it on the televised replay.
True, it could have gone to the post, or maybe Jeron Teng should have gone strong to the basket. But the Tigers were quick on their feet, employing their zone defense for one last time. All the help was there, even coming early as Teng got the ball out top. From where I was sitting, LA Revilla’s drive and kick out to Almond Vosotros seemed to be the best shot at that moment. This just exemplified how much the Green Archers still trust each other.
After all, Vosotros finally broke out of his slump, making an equally crucial 3-point shot with a little over 3 minutes left, on his way to 20 points. The entire team’s confidence in him is unshakeable, as he was never replaced in the starting five and his minutes weren’t lessened even during his 4-game slump.
Maybe a 3-point shot wasn’t what was needed at that point, but for UST neither was Kevin Ferrer’s long bomb with 34 seconds left. This is the finals, after all. When big players take big shots. And maybe that’s what it will all boil down to, after all the X’s and O’s are mapped out: making big plays and hitting crucial shots. It’s also when that little extra something will push a team over the edge– that one extra rebound, that one timely steal, that little extra inch to deflect a potential game-winning shot, or that one big play from one of the role players.
I never second guessed this team even during that shaky first round of the eliminations, so I won’t do it now. The last time anyone did, they came out with a 9-game winning streak. All that is behind us now. Just one game is all everybody is focused on. One game to bring that little extra something; that extra fight and energy. UST had luck on their side, winning by the skin of their teeth. But in the finals, sometimes luck is exactly that little extra something a team needs.
This La Salle team will fight, as it did yesterday, turning an ugly opening quarter and a 17-point deficit into a tight contest right until the final buzzer, and the same way it has for the entire second round and through the final four. And we all know bouncing back and adjusting is something Coach Juno Sauler and his boys do very well.
The same as everyone else, my faith in this team will not be shaken. Definitely not by UST’s razor-thin one-point win. It’s all on the line now. A single game to extend the season and show what greatness is made of. Expect the Green Archers to play their hearts out and the community to bring the noise.
High and Bright. For a place in history. For greatness. And for all the glory.