The road to the back-to-back continues as the De La Salle University Green Archers takes on the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in a playoff game to determine the #2 finisher in the elimination round, which will also get the twice to beat advantage in the Final Four. For the second straight year, DLSU and FEU will contest this much-coveted position going into the post-season, which most UAAP observers call the virtual best of three series since either DLSU or FEU has to win two out of their next three possible games to advance to the finals.
Last season, DLSU swept FEU en route to ending its UAAP men’s basketball title drought in five years. DLSU had to beat NU last week Saturday, 68-56 to force this playoff match against FEU, who blew a chance to get the #1 seed and the outright twice to beat advantage after blowing a 19-point lead in the final quarter then losing to the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 68-64 in overtime. FEU is the only team that DLSU failed to beat this season as the Tamaraws defeated the Green Archers in opening day last July 12, 82-77 and in the schools’ second round meeting, 74-70 last August 27.
In both of DLSU’s defeats to FEU, the Green Archers always had a comfortable lead before the Tamaraws slowly made its run at towards the end of the third quarter then finally making that strong finishing kick in the final quarter. Mike Tolomia has been crucial in both of FEU’s wins as he scored both 20-plus points in both wins for the Tamaraws. Same trend also for the new King Tamaraw as he starts slowly the game before exploding in the final period.
Keys to the Game:
Limit Mac Belo
Mac Belo was a revelation for the Tamaraws this season. A lot of people expected Mike Tolomia to solely carry the load for FEU this season a la RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo but this lanky small forward proved to be FEU’s biggest weapon on both ends of the floor this season, leading to his inclusion the league’s mythical five with averages of 16.1 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game in 26.3 minutes of action every contest.
The big guys of the Green Archers will have their hands full in this series against Belo. Arnold Van Opstal finally stepped up offensively during the last game against NU. Hopefully, AVO can also step up defensively against FEU by banging bodies against Belo. Belo is one of the best frontcourt players in the league today but the Archers frontcourt is loaded so guys such as Jason Perkins, Norbert Torres, Yutien Andrada and Abu Tratter should make life miserable for Belo.
The Flu Game
Jeron Teng was hospitalized a few days ago due to mild dengue. He won’t be 100% this Sunday. A lot of people are hoping that Jeron can duplicate what Michael Jordan did during that famous “flu game” during 1997 NBA Finals when Jordan had a memorable game against the Utah Jazz. LaSallians are hoping that Jeron can have a similar performance against FEU this Sunday.
However, it would be hard to rely on a weary Jeron. So the others should step up. Almond Vosotros and AVO finally had good games against NU during the last game of the eliminations and hopefully they can carry that momentum in this playoff game. Jason Perkins had his ups and downs during this season, perhaps a case of the dreaded “sophomore slump”. Perkins would love to prove that last year’s Mythical Five award is not a fluke.
After losing in the Rookie of the Year race, Prince Rivero should be more motivated than ever to prove his worth. DLSU is a deep team and there is no better time to show it by having a solid team effort in a playoff game with the King Archer Jeron Teng not in 100%. A total team effort show on Sunday will definitely increase La Salle’s chances of taking that twice to beat advantage, or even the series as a whole.
The Return of Thomas Torres
Thomas Torres was in uniform during the game against NU but he wasn’t fielded. Maybe Thomas can finally get some burn time this Sunday. One of the reasons why Almond Vosotros struggled this season was because he needed to play point guard even if his natural position is shooting guard due to the injury of Thomas Torres.
Vosotros played heavy minutes this season, and he needed to carry down the ball and direct the offense instead of concentrating on just his shooting. Hopefully, with the return of Thomas, Vosotros just can concentrate on his role as the shooter of this team while Thomas and Kib Montalbo share quarterbacking duties.
The fourth quarter lead of the Archers ballooned against NU during their last game because DLSU did not step off the pedal. The Archers played to win and not “not to lose” during the fourth quarter against NU. This was not the case for the Archers for most of the season. DLSU blew huge leads against Ateneo, FEU and UE this season due to lack of aggressiveness and by playing “not to lose” when the Archers lead got big. It is the playoffs already and the Archers needs to show the killer instinct that made the heavy favorites before the start of the season.
DLSU was expected to dominate the elimination round but unfortunately it was not the case. Most also expected that DLSU will get an automatic twice to beat advantage but this also did not happen. The Green Archers had to display one solid performance to close out the elimination round to be in this stage. It was a roller coaster elimination round for the Green Archers after starting the season at 0-2, including a painful loss to Ateneo, La Salle rolled to a 7-game winning streak, highlighted by a payback win over Ateneo.
Afterwards, DLSU struggled a bit but the important thing is the Green Archers are back in the playoffs. It gives them another opportunity to defend their title and serves as a venue for DLSU to show that the road to the UAAP men’s basketball championship still goes through Taft Avenue. The title defense is now in full swing and the Archers should sharpen their arrows towards the hungry and charging Tamaraws.