It’s beginning to feel like 2013 again. Seven-game winning streak in the eliminations, check. 10-4 win-loss record at the end of the eliminations, check. And finally, a virtual best-of-three series against Far Eastern U in the UAAP men’s basketball Final Four.
In a quality matchup scheduled during the primetime block, the De La Salle Green Archers tamed the methodical National U Bulldogs, 68-56 to formalize their entry into the UAAP playoffs. The perfect combination of hot 50% shooting coupled with a very stingy defense more than made up for the disappointing loss last Wednesday against the UE Red Warriors.
Relax for the next few days as the real season starts next week.
Save for the 11-point output in the second quarter, the Green Archers showed champion poise and experience from the get go. In a balanced attack, the combined 10 points from Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres complemented an on-target Almond Vosotros, who sank two early three-point shots en route to La Salle leading 20-17 at the end of the first period.
The sense of urgency, sharp focus and defensive intensity is a welcome sight after the uninspired games against Adamson, UST and UE. After being tied 31-all at intermission, La Salle got busy on both ends of the floor. After Gelo Alolino tied the score once again at 37 with 7:00 to go, DLSU did not allow another NU field goal for the next 5:30, while the La Salle five of Jason Perkins, AVO, Jeron, Julian Sargent and Almond scored at will. The last Voso-tres with 1:44 left, punctuated the 18-4 run, giving the Archers its first double digit lead, 49-39.
There was no letup even after the Bulldogs cut the lead to five at the start of the final period. Six quick points by The Bear gave La Salle the double digit lead back while Kib Montalbo, Arnold, Almond, Jason and Julian all scored a field goal each during a 11-1 run to dash any NU hopes of a comeback.
The Bulldogs had no answer for the wave after wave of La Salle momentum, scoring only six points in the first nine minutes of the quarter before padding their score at garbage time.
How’d you like me now?
Almond, after bearing the bulk of the blame for the UE loss was the man of the match. He started the game strong, scoring eight points then finished the game with 15 total points. The fifth-year veteran outplayed his younger Bulldog counterparts, using a variety of pump fakes, nifty footwork and high-arching shots to make 6/11, in the process breaking out of his personal four-game 13/52 shooting slump.
AVO likewise rebounded from his zero-attemp, zero-point, foul-plagued game against the Red Warriors with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. Against a less physical import duo of Alfred Aroga and Joel Betayene, Van Opstal had a field day in the paint, using an array of shots from hooks, put back and bank shots to frustrate the NU defense.
To recall, Arnold was quoted last year in saying that he felt the season and championship were theirs for the taking; his dominant game was just a less quite but more visual statement to rest of the league and all the haters that the Green Archers are dead-serious in their title-retention bid.
Confidence can be infectious. Perkins picked up the slack in the third period, nailing two jumpers and a hook shot for six of his total eight points. Kib then shot two long shot-clocking beating perimeter shots in the fourth to take the fight to the heart of the Bulldogs.
Despite Thomas Torres being cleared to play, Montalbo still got the starting nod and did not fail coach Juno Sauler, decisive and quick despite repeated full-court press attempts by NU, the Bacolod-native turned the ball over just once while helping La Salle’s cause with five points and four rebounds.
As the rest of the team picked up the slack, the past heroic efforts of Jeron took a back seat to a dangerous and hard to defend team ball. The Season 76 Finals MVP might have finished a human-like nine points, five rebounds and four assists but together with the rest of the team left the Smart Araneta Coliseum with a W.
This crucial win ensured that La Salle does not fall into fourth place in the standings, where a dangerous and streaking UE Red Warrior team is on target to play a winner-goes-to-the-final-four playoff game.
As it is, the Archers get not only a chance to go in the finals against the Tamaraws but also retribution with FEU sweeping La Salle in two elimination games, 77-82 and 74-70. Let’s enjoy the rest of the weekend; while the coaching staff prepares for the Nash Racela-lead Tams, relax for the next few days as the real season starts next week.
Animo La Salle!