The last time these two proud institutions faced each other in the UAAP was almost 10 months ago. The De La Salle Green Archers beat the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, 2-1 in a best-of-three series to win the men’s basketball crown. Judging from the amount of drama, intensity and quality of play, this first round match-up in Season 77 was treated like a continuation of last year’s championship series.
After the smoke cleared, La Salle, left hobbling and bleeding by the ferocious Tigers, was clearly the better team and came up on top, 83-70 to rise to second place in the standings.
The first half was the Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins and Prince Rivero show with the trio combining for 25 of 35 total DLSU points. For 20 minutes, the pesky UST Tigers kept in step and forced a 35-all tie with their Taft-based counterparts courtesy of 16 points from former NCAA juniors MVP, Louie Vigil.
Neither team lead by more than five until the end of the third period when Teng scored a layup and Robert Bolick connected from beyond the arc to give La Salle an eight point lead, 59-51.
Garden bonfires and end-game meltdowns aside, this game will be remembered more for the type of end game finishes that were missing from the Archer’s first two losses of the season against FEU and Ateneo. Likewise, the bench that was found wanting in early games is now brimming with confidence, ready to contribute, and keeping or increasing the lead and momentum when given the opportunity.
The teamwork that the team has shown throughout this five-game winning steak makes La Salle a dangerous and unpredictable team. Although Jeron had the best statistical line of 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, he had enough support from Jason Perkins’15 points and nine rebounds and Rivero’s 12 and eight.
Key stats of the game
+17. Other Archers may have scored more or grabbed more rebounds but the player than made the biggest difference was rookie Julian Sargent. Tasked primary to defend UST’s Kevin Ferrer, Sargent was also able to contribute on other aspects of the game, scoring nine of his total 10 points in the 4th quarter to go along with four rebounds.
UST trimmed La Salle’s lead to a four, 59-55 from an Aljon Mariano jumper. But with Uste head coach Bong dela Cruz relying on a very short rotation, Sargent was able to take advantage of the Tigers’tired legs, nailing a three-point shot and two and-one plays to lead an 11-6 run within a two minute span. The rally gave some breathing room and increased the lead of the Green Archers to nine, 70-61 with 4:10 to go.
23/30. In a very close game, every point counts. Converting 23 out of 30 free throws, for a 76.7%clip, our boys made sure that the charity stripe would not cause nightmares like in past matches. Just to stress how important making freebies are, La Salle had a +11 advantage in makes and +12 in attempts against UST, numbers close enough to the final winning margin.
Heart. With all three natural point guard out with injury: Thomas Torres (ankle), Kib Montalbo (calf) and Terrence Mustre (wrist) and two of the team’s top big men unavailable Arnold Van Opstal (achilles) and Norbert Torres (lacerated finger), the odds were clearly stacked against the Green Archers and its coaching staff.
This game is a constant reminder that although the line-up was reduced to only nine available players after halftime, the live action only requires five players a side. At one point, the lineup of Jeron, Perkins, Prince, Almond Vosotros and Sargent was so unconventional, Rivero was tasked at guarding UST import Karim Abdul.
Without much of its vaunted frontline and court generals, La Salle stood their ground and even won the battle of the rebounds, 43-35. The defending champions proved that character, heart and teamwork can just as easily overcome the challenges and limitations caused by injuries.
Coaching. It is coach Juno’s world and we are just living in it. Never mind how we still won that game against the UE Red Warriors after committing 36 turnovers but winning a game of this importance despite the manpower disadvantage is nothing short of amazing.
From the starters to the bench, every number called by coach Juno delivered. Yutien Andrada had four points and two boards, Abu Tratter with four and three and best of all Bolick with that quarter-ending three together with an earlier layup in the second period for a total of five points.
The Lasallian community can sleep well knowing that the season is headed in the right direction captained by our poker-faced tactician and his merry band of green pants-wearing staff.
Expecting the Green Archers to sweep the second round just like last year may not be impossible but maybe asking too much. The team may have been able to scramble and adjust to the injuries for this game, but prolonged absence of players will hurt against other top tier teams.
The earliest next playdate of DLSU is on Saturday, giving our injured players a much needed week to recuperate and hopefully be back to strengthen the lineup. The phoenix-like ascension from 0-2 to 5-2 and second place in the standings is something to be proud of but the quest of back-to-back titles only gets more difficult from hereon. Still, there isn’t a better time to be a Lasallian. Animo La Salle!