Win or go home. That is the naked truth for the defending champion De La Salle University. The Lasallian community would be singing a different tune today had the Green Archers won their playoff game for the twice-to-beat advantage against FEU, 60-65. Instead everyone is hoping that the season and championship reign extends beyond next Saturday’s do-or-die game.
From the rust coming off a one-week break, Typhoon Mario, a Dengue-carrying mosquito and finally a underwear fashion show the night before, everything besides the kitchen sink got the blame aside for the play of the Green Archers at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The team started flat, scoring only 24 points in the first half and trailing by as much as 13 as the Tamaraws packed the paint and dared the La Salle perimeter players to shoot from the outside. Jason Perkins was the only Archer ready to play, scoring 11 of his total 15 points to keep DLSU afloat and within striking distance, 24-32 at intermission.
For Coach Juno and his wards, winning the game on Saturday comes first before writing or rewriting history.
Scoreless in the first 20 minutes of play, Almond Vosotros caught fire in the third quarter by hitting four three-pointers, with his last connection tying the game at 50-all with less than a minute to go. So committed and intense was Almond that once he was substituted to the bench, fifth-year guard clung to the oxygen breathing mask like there was no tomorrow.
How we all wish that the rest of the La Salle veterans played with some sense of urgency like Almond. Jeron Teng offered no excuses for his sub-par game, scored eight points from a measly 2/11 shooting, eight rebounds and five turnovers. The equally extracurricular activity-minded Arnold Van Opstal was likewise frustrated by the defense of the FEU big men, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds and turning the ball over seven times.
There were a number of instance, in both offense and defense that AVO either tried to do too much, or did too little. In almost any game, Arnold will try to overpower his way in the post by banging his body into his defender or utilizing a hook or “chicken wing”. Two minutes into the game, Arnold was whistled for a offensive foul as he hooked his defender and this seemed to take out his effectiveness and aggressiveness for the entire half.
On defense, AVO was caught in some cross matches against smaller FEU players like Carl Cruz and Roger Pogoy. The half-hearted attempts by AVO to defend the FEU duo on the perimeter resulted into wide open shots and left many to scratch their heads and wonder what in the world Arnold was doing.
The La Salle starting center did give DLSU its last taste of the lead, pounding the ball inside for a 60-58 lead with 3:26 to go. It was all downhill for the Green and White, as turnovers, ill-advised shots and unwise fouls allowed Far Eastern U to score the game’s last seven points and gave them the twice-to-beat edge.
Can 2 > 3 be repeated?
Some are recalling Season 70 when La Salle also lost thrice to the Ateneo Blue Eagles, twice in the eliminations and another in the Final Four when DLSU had the twice-to-beat edge. The three losses to FEU this year, 77-82 in the season opener, 70-74 for the top spot and 60-65 for the second spot in the playoffs have shown the Green Archers’ inability to stay composed in the closing minutes or the lack of killer instinct to finish off the Tams.
After three match-ups so far, FEU coach Nash Racela has gotten the upper hand of the coaching battle against his counterpart in DLSU, Juno Sauler. The dribble drive offense that killed La Salle in the first game of the season was as equally brilliant as the defensive schemes the Tams put up in last night’s game. The active FEU defense effectively made La Salle a jump shooting team, as the Archers scored as much perimeter points (25) as inside points (24).
For Coach Juno and his wards, winning the game on Saturday comes first before writing or rewriting history. At this stage of the tournament, the game becomes more of a battle of mental wills than physical strength. Every La Salle possession and every play will spell either victory or contribute to their defeat.
Searching for support
I rather not dwell on the supposed activities outside basketball that a few of the La Salle players were involved in. To begin with, I neither have much interest in fashion nor do I know the whole version of the story. If the UAAP Board, school and team management gave to go signal for the players to participate then so be it.
What is more worrying is the output on the floor. Save for the Vosotros-lead 26 points in the third quarter, the Archers produced 12, 12 and 10 the rest of the game. Out of 14 available players, including the returning Thomas Torres, only seven contributed for 60 total La Salle points, with Norbert Torres and Julian Sargent’s combined 11 points coming off the bench.
Coaches tend to have philosophies of sticking with their main guns during crucial matches, but I believe rookie Prince Rivero and veteran big man Yutien Adrada could have been fielded in to provide quality minutes for the team.
The Green and White community can live with the awful shooting percentages and even the careless turnovers. What will test our faith on this the team are failing to execute down the stretch and yielding another important game. Our belief on this team demands excellence on the court. Such are expectations of representing this proud institution as well as being the defending champions.
Five more days until La Salle face the Tamaraws for the fourth and maybe the final time in the UAAP this year. Fighting to extend the season, there are no fashion shows, typhoons or illnesses to distract the team from here on out. No more excuses with when their backs are against the wall. The message to the Green Archers is simple. Win or go home.