Every La Salle headline and article in the broadsheets and the Internet describe the Green Archers with adjectives like: depleted, injured or limited rotation. It has been almost a month (July 20 versus Ateneo) since all 14 available Archers suited up to play. Such has been the predicament for the defending champions that the team has already learned how to maximize the contributions of all healthy players.
Despite lacking in manpower, only two teams, Far Eastern U and Ateneo have given blemish to La Salle’s win-loss record and last Sunday was the perfect time to exact payback against the Blue Eagles. Scheduling, pairing and venue issues aside, the Sunday battle of the defending champions DLSU against their Katipunan counterparts had the makings of an instant classic.
The Green Archers led as much as 13 but it was not until the final buzzer sounded that La Salle was able to avenged its first round defeat against the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles, 88-86 in 40 exciting minutes.
DLSU leaned on a strong first half to gain the early edge before holding off several comeback attempts by the Eagles. Behind 15 first quarter points by Jeron Teng, the Green Archers dictated the first 10 minutes of play, limiting Ateneo to 4 of 18 shooting to lead by nine, 19-10. All nine points proved crucial as the Eagles outscored La Salle 25-26, 22-25 and 22-25 the rest of the way.
Julian Sargent got the start and was tasked to guard UAAP leading scorer Keifer Ravena. The rookie used his length and size to completely shutdown Ateneo’s main gunner in the first quarter and together with Robert Bolick forced the King Eagle to a poor shooting night, going eight for 23 from the field.
Julian also made the Ateneo defense work, scoring on several spectacular layups, going 5 of 7 from the field for 11 points to go along with three rebounds.
Compared to the first game against AdMU, Teng took four less shots (16 versus 20), but was more effective and aggressive. The Season 76 finals MVP paced La Salle’s offense with 32 points, six rebounds and five assists with more than half of his output coming from the charity stripe.
Finally showing the confidence and consistency lacking in years past, Jeron went 17 for 20 from the line, including timely makes which thwarted every Ateneo rally. Jason Perkins continued his mastery of his Ateneo defenders, finishing with 18 points, on 7/11 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Even with Ravena hitting every shot in the second quarter, the Archers still managed to take the lead at halftime, 44-36 with Teng, Perkins and Rivero each scoring six points to negate Ravena’s 15.
Perhaps reacting to coach Juno Sauler’s comments about “the Blue Eagle’s ability to sell fouls”, the referees allowed a much more physical game compare to the teams’ first encounter.
The calls were fair though as I recall no foul called when Jason got tripped by a fallen Atenean and lost possession of the ball, while on the other end, Perkins could have easily been called a foul when Chris Newsome hit a banked three pointer with 3 seconds to play.
La Salle got called for 22 fouls resulting in 24 free throws for Ateneo, a stark contrast to the round one where the Archers were whistled for 29 fouls and gave up 35 freebies.
Green Archers never stop… Executing
Looking at the final tally, aside from the +6 advantage in free throws made and +8 in attempts, the match was pretty even in other aspects. DLSU had the slight 44-43 edge in rebounds while both teams had 16 assists and same number of made field goals (30).
With neither team giving an inch and the score tight at the closing moments, execution mattered more than statistics. With 2:06 to go and an Ateneo double team covering him, Teng found an open Sargent from the opposite corner for a three-point shot and 81-77 lead.
Ateneo made back-to-back baskets to tie the game at 81-all before Jeron split his free throws and Perkins hit a long jumper with three seconds left on the shot clock for the go-ahead basket.
Curiously, La Salle gave up the same number of three-point shots to Ateneo as they did during the first round with 10. Only this time, the Archers made sure that they have an answer to every ADMU rally to extend their current winning streak to six and a share of first place in the standings.
Green Archers never stop… Defending
As a team, La Salle allowed 11 less points compared to the opening round of the tournament. The Green Archers were also able to limit the individual contributions of several Blue Eagles who played well during the first round. Big men Fonso Gotladera and Arvin Tolentino combined for 17 points, way below their 31 point production last game.
Ateneo sniper Von Pessumal, who scorched DLSU with 21 last time around was a marked man and was limited to 10 points by the Lasallian perimeter players.
The hussle on the defensive end by Sargent and Bolick on Ravena took its tool in the final canto as the visibly tired Ateneo shooting guard was held to four points, including an air ball with less than two minutes to go. Ravena was also held below well below his season average of 11 free throw attempts, looking somewhat human by going 4-for-8 from the charity stripe.
Green Archers never stop… Contributing
Aside from defense, Bolick, a second year guard, also scored a career-high 10 points, highlighted by two triples in the second half and three assists.
Despite his cut finger not yet fully healed, the ball still found its way towards Norbert Torres in the post. In limited minutes, the Bear scored only two points but grabbed nine rebounds. His presence prevented the Atenean big men from clogging the lane, giving Jeron and Sargent space for their drives.
It will be another six days before the Green Archers get back to the hard court, a Saturday playdate against University of the Philippines. This stretch gives our recuperating players more time to prepare, get better and reintegrate to coach Juno’s rotation. While the team chooses to ignore the significance of the six-game winning streak, one thing is certain, the Green Archers never stop winning.