Greenstincts: Waking up a sleeping giant

UAAP 77 overall host, University of the East Red Warriors, was unbeaten, on top of the men’s basketball standings at 2-0 and with a 27.5 average winning margin, hungry for more. On the other side, La Salle, even after beating National U by two points and with a 1-2 record hardly resembles the dominant team everyone expected in the men basketball wars.

Unfortunately for the Recto-based squad and to the delight of the Lasallian faithful, the De La Salle Green Archers displayed more endgame composure to post a 60-58 win against UE and former La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren.

The game felt more like a final four game but played during the last Sunday of July. Featuring low scoring, lots of turnovers and players from both squads fouling out.

It is games like these, grind-it-out, pressure-packed ones that are seemingly worth more than just one win in the standings.

The number of turnovers committed by La Salle, 36, would easily be the anchor of conversations had DLSU lost this game. The patented Pumaren full-court press, one that was the foundation for most of the eight UAAP championships in La Salle’s trophy case forced 31 turnovers for the first three quarters.

The odds were clearly stacked against the defending champions. The fourth quarter started with La Salle trailing 36-46 and the production of big men Jason Perkins and Arnold Van Opstal limited because of foul trouble.

Instead, the combination of the teamwork, defence and championship experience in the last quarter headlined the team’s second win in Season 77. Team captain Jeron Teng could have easily called isolation plays for himself, but instead drove to the basket and fed rookie Prince Rivero twice. The first, resulted in a three-point play and gave the Archers the lead, 56-54.

While the second extended the lead to four, 60-56 with 44.1 seconds left. Prince, the former NCAA juniors MVP finally had his breakout performance, churning out eight points, all in the 4th. In 14 minutes of action, Rivero added five rebounds, a block and an assist to more than make up for the combined seven points, 10 rebounds and one block of AVO and Jason.

Despite registering 11 turnovers, La Salle actually had a solid start in the first quarter, even leading 12-11 before a Paul Varilla three gave the Red Warriors the two-lead. As ugly as the turnover problems of La Salle, a 7-0 run to end the first half kept the Green Archers within striking distance, 26-28.

Key stretch of the game
The 4th quarter definitely belonged to Taft. With both UE imports Charles Mammie and Moustapha Arafat nursing their fouls, La Salle scored 16 of their total 32 inside points, and out-rebounded UE 17-8. The defence also tightened in the last ten minutes as UE struggled from the field, hitting only three of 15 field goals.

Key stats of the game
31% opponent field goal. La Salle did commit 36 turnovers and shot 1/11 from the three-point area but they limited the damage done by holding UE to a very low shooting percentage. The Red Warriors had 10 more field goal attempts (64-54) due to their pace and aggressive defence but converted less (20 made against DLSU with 23).

Rebounding. After being out rebounded by Ateneo and National U, La Salle won the rebound battle, 48-35 with Norbert Torres grabbing 14, five from the offensive end. That edge in the boards gave the Green and White seven second chance points, negating UE’s advantage in pace and field goal attempts.

Something to improve on
Outside shooting from the three-point area still remains a concern with La Salle going one out of 27 in the past two games. Opponents will continue to pack the paint until our shooters improve their accuracy. But I believe it should not take long until the three point shot returns as one of the team’s weapons.

I am loving the continuous evolution of Jeron Teng’s game. Sure, the outside shooting and free throws are work in progress but the unselfishness and trust in his teammates stick out more than his shooting touch. Jeron had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists with the six turnovers being the only blemish on his stat line.

The defending champions are gaining strength week-by-week, managing to climb back to .500 with a 2-2 record after back-to-back wins against National U and UE. That 0-2 start might just be what it takes for the team to get over their championship hangovers and awaken the sleeping giant inside.

There are still things to adjust, but I like the chances that the Green Archers finish the first round better than last year’s 3-4. Animo La Salle!