The UE tribe has spoken. After outwitting, outplaying and outlasting the De La Salle Green Archers, 66-68, the Red Warriors Final Four hopes are still alive while leaving the defending champions in a must win situation against National U for the twice-to-beat playoff advantage.
While the UE full-court press did most of its damage in the first half, the pressure on the Green Archers to sweep their two remaining elimination games and tie for first place in the team standings was greater.
A tale of two halves
For the first 20 minutes, the UE defense allowed La Salle to make only five field goals, none from the perimeter. The Green Archers could not make their shots from close distance, missing jumpers and easy layups.
As the Red Warriors stretch their 15-13 first quarter lead to 36-22 at intermission, the only thing that kept La Salle within striking distance was converting 12 of 16 from the line. The UE reserves came to play while La Salle could only count on Julian Sargent’s two free throws, giving the Recto squad as huge 24-2 first-half edge in bench points.
Whatever coach Juno Sauler and his coaching staff said or did during the halftime break worked as a quick 7-0 run in the first five minutes gave life to the Green Archers. Bong Galanza answered with a three pointer but La Salle kept attacking and playing great defense, limiting UE to seven in the third quarter and trimming the lead to just four, 39-43 after Sargent scored the first DLSU perimeter points with a three.
With momentum clearly on their side, the La Salle five consisting of Jeron, Almond, Julian, Prince Rivero and Kib Montalbo starred on a sizzling 22-8 run to grab the lead, 61-51. The unconventional La Salle small ball worked as it featured better ball movement and less predictability on offense and quick counterattacking on UE misses.
That stretch at the start of the final period… showed that the only way to back-to-back UAAP basketball titles is through teamwork.
The Red Warriors would get the last laugh, as the combination of Galanza’s shooting and costly La Salle turnovers prevented the Green and White to formally announce their entry to the Final Four.
Turnovers: La Salle’s Kryptonite
The team, for the whole game actually shot better than their Recto counterparts, shooting 39% from the field while converting 70% from the line (19/27). The La Salle frontline was also able to win the battle of the boards, 49-36 and limit the production of the UE’s two African imports, Charles Mammie and Moustapha Arafat to a combined seven points on 2/11 shooting and nine rebounds.
The Archers’ point-guard by committee approach hardly stood a chance to the aggressive full-court press UE employed. Easily the main chink in the DLSU armor was committing 30 turnovers that the Red Warriors exploited for 24 easy points.
After a manageable dozen errors in the first half, La Salle turned the ball over 18 more times in the second half, none more important that the Dan Alberto steal off Almond that resulted to an and-one play with 31.8 seconds left.
Though the number of errors were less compared to the 36 that the team gave up during the first round, the five point difference in turnover points (19 vs. 24) could have easily turned the final score in La Salle’s favor.
Wacky, wicked Wednesdays
I am beginning to hate Wednesday UAAP playdates. After going 2-0 in the first round: a 57-55 squeaker against National U and 21 point win against UP, the De La Salle Green Archers have lost both Wednesday playdates in the second round, the 70-74 loss to Far Eastern U and finally, yesterday’s loss to the Red Warriors.
Not only did both second round games matched La Salle with strong Final Four-contenders but the implications in the team standings and playoffs more than merited a weekend schedule. At that time, La Salle, tied with FEU at 7-2, had the chance to be the number one team but failed to grab an important end-game rebound as the Tamaraws swept the regular season series.
Flash forward to the UE game. A win against the Derrick Pumaren-coach squad clinches a Final Four spot for the defending champions and secures a playoff for the twice-to-beat advantage. It was a shame that only a handful of Lasallian fans and supporters filled the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Likewise, most working professionals had to settle with the poor quality of the live stream via the UAAP Sports website or through social media updates.
Blame it on the rain
Avid fans and supports can point to anyone not named Teng all they want. From Arnold Van Opstal struggling with foul trouble, the disappearance of Jason Perkins to the shooting inconsistencies of Almond Vosotros.
The two La Salle big men contributed only two points, 10 rebounds and nine turnovers in 27 combined minutes. Almond, despite hitting two big rainbow connections in the fourth still finished four of 13 from the field.
As brilliant as coach Juno utilizing a small lineup to trim UE’s halftime lead and eventually lead by 10 in the middle of the fourth, Pumaren countered by leaning on his veteran crew and deep bench to get the final upper hand.
No doubt Jeron would trade his remarkable stat line of 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists for a win. That stretch at the start of the final period, where all five La Salle players scored, showed that the only way to back-to-back UAAP basketball titles is through teamwork.
As individuals, players can struggle to find their outside touch, get lost in their opponent’s aggressive defense or deal with foul troubles. But all of these pale in comparison when players work together and pass the ball to find an open teammate. Knowing that win or lose, they got each other’s back. As one Animo Nation, let’s cheer for a great outcome on Saturday. The Final Four is coming and the championship destiny awaits.
Animo La Salle!