Game Preview: 2 > 3 Deja Vu?

On Wednesday, the Green Archers will try to accomplish what they did back in 2007.  That is to say that beating a team twice whole season long is way meaningful than getting beat by the same team thrice in the same season.  As we all know back in that championship run seven years ago, the Green Archers have defeated the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles only twice that season but it was all the “when it mattered most” games en route to that spectacular championship season by defeating the mighty University of the East Red Warriors, a team that I personally consider a PBA D-League team masquerading as a UAAP team that time.

After seeing their dominating performance last Saturday, I cannot blame the whole De La Salle community to be hopeful and positive that this “2 > 3” slogan will definitely be possible on Wednesday.  To simply put it, all I can say right now is that if this team is fully focused, everything is possible and sky is the limit.  Aside from the 68-56 victory over the Bulldogs last September 13, last Saturday’s victory was one of those matches wherein the Green Archers showed that championship-caliber quality that everyone expected to see this season, both La Salle supporters and those from outside looking in combined.

Without further ado, here are the talking points that I like to discuss going into this second sudden death game for the Green Archers in the span of four days (in no order of importance, I will put them as I remember them through this writing):

FEU’s Mental State:
I think for the first time this season, this is the only FEU defeat wherein they were matched and overplayed wire to wire.  This is also the first time this season that FEU will enter into a game wherein they need to fight for their own lives so the question for me here is how FEU will come out on Wednesday.  Will they come out a tougher team, raring to bounce back after that big defeat to a team I think FEU considered as a team they can beat anytime?  Or will that big defeat leave a huge scar on FEU’s chests and put doubts into their minds that this will be not an easy cake to take on Wednesday?

I honestly do not know at this point how FEU will show up on Wednesday.  Historically, FEU’s mental toughness has been in question always not just this season but in the past seasons as well when it comes to big games but definitely, Coach Nash Racela has something up in his sleeve ready to turn up and lift the spirits of his wards on Wednesday but I am also confident that our coaching staff will come up prepared also so this will be a good match to see as both teams fight it out for the last finals spot.

Game Adjustments:
Last Saturday, I think it was our turn to bring in the adjustments that left FEU thinking how to adjust defensively.  One glaring thing for me was our quickness to attack the basket and not let FEU settle and wait for their defense to set up.  Our big guys knew they have the height advantage and took it to the teeth of FEU’s big guys to battle them also physically.  The team was not tentative as far as decision-making is concerned on the offensive end.  The ball movement was superb, resulting to a 19-10 assist advantage for DLSU.  This was a far cry in our past three games against FEU wherein we allow FEU to settle their help defense inside the paint.

Another thing that I liked about that win last Saturday was the perimeter guys did not hesitate to throw up those threes whenever they are open.  Julian Sargent started it in the first quarter and then Almond continued it up until the end of the game.  Personally, I am confident with these guys that they can shoot from way deep, it was just about shooting it with confidence and I can, maybe correlate it with how the team approach it coming into the free throw line.  I would like to see the same on Wednesday as those perimeter points definitely help out a lot, forcing FEU to play honest defense all over the court from side to side, not just literally packing the paint with three players, not just to help out defensively on our post plays, but also be ready to get those rebounds.

Another question for me is if FEU will run more plays on Mike Tolomia on Wednesday.  Last Saturday, FEU literally rode on the shoulders of Mark Belo, which became productive as he scored a career-high I think of 32 points but the good thing there was Tolomia only scored 7 points and La Salle’s defense forced him to just shot for 2/14 from the field (2/10 from way deep).  Personally, I still believe that Mike Tolomia is FEU’s most dangerous player because he cannot just wax hot from anywhere in the court, but also he can make his teammates good as well as he is FEU’s best passer (3.3 apg this season).

In every game against DLSU this season, FEU normally goes to Mark Belo because they think he is always a mismatch to La Salle’s power forwards and centers.  As you can see, whenever Belo has the ball, he always has that isolation play wherein he attacks La Salle’s defenders at will, resulting to a basket or free throws since he gets fouls from it but last Saturday, our coaching staff did a good job of mixing things up on the defensive end, putting different defenders on Belo, although he scored a lot, it took away the rhythm of the other FEU players on the offensive end.  Normally, FEU is averaging 15 assists a game this season but last Saturday, they were down to just 10 assists, La Salle taking away possibly 10 points at the minimum was big in this game.

I would also like to see the team playing superb defense, not allowing FEU to make any inside penetrations to fuel their offense.  This is another area where the Green Archers played very well last Saturday.  It did not allow the Tamaraws to move the ball as they normally would.  It resulted to most FEU players taking jumpers off the pick and roll rather than outplaying their La Salle counterparts off the dribble making the Green Archers move from side to side.  Last Saturday, it was DLSU who made FEU move from side to side.  In short, FEU was beaten in their own game and I would like to see how FEU will adjust on the defensive end to address that issue.  As for the Green Archers, for as long as they keep the ball moving and stay aggressive whenever they attack, I think they will get the better end of the calls since DLSU really loves to take it to the paint all the time.

Another end product of DLSU not allowing FEU to attack the paint at will was the bench points category.  FEU is averaging 28 bench points per game but last Saturday, FEU’s bench only scored 22 and the big point here is Pogoy was only limited to just 2 points.  Comparing it to DLSU, the Green Archers scored 37 bench points with Norbert and Julian leading the charge, combining for 29 of those 37 bench points for the Green Archers.  To make it simple, the ball rotation on both teams really affected this game.  La Salle’s ball rotation allowed them to get the ball to the guys in scoring position faster and the players who get the catch at those positions attack right away, resulting to either a basket, a foul, or both in some cases.

With all these things in mind, I think the four days gap from last Saturday’s game to Wednesday’s game will involve at lot of adjustments for both teams on both ends of the floor.  FEU has to find a way to get their ball movement going, particularly on how to penetrate and get inside DLSU’s defense.  As for the Green Archers, decision-making will be the key on Wednesday’s game on both ends of the floor still.  If they bring that same aggressiveness on the offensive end and keep the Tamaraws on their toes, the Green Archers will have a very good chance of winning that ball game.  La Salle cannot afford to be tentative offensively since FEU likes to gang it up defensively then run the break for easy baskets.  La Salle still sticks to their inside-outside offensive patterns but this time around, it seemed that the Green Archers did not play afraid to the Tamaraws’ inside defense, battling them toe to toe, strength for strength, just like the way it should be since the Green Archers are the taller team.

Personally, I expect Wednesday’s game to be a grit and grind one.  I do not see FEU giving up this early and for sure Tolomia will bounce back, just like what Jeron did for the Green Archers last Saturday.  I also see both guys (Tolomia and Teng) to lead their respective charges not just in the intangibles category but also stats-wise so I would like to stress it on this writing that the game on Wednesday will be a battle of other players stepping up to the plate.  Pogoy will be an x-factor for the Tamaraws just like how Jason, Norbert, and Julian will be for the Green Archers.

I am not saying for La Salle, those three (Jason, Norbert, and Julian) are just the reliable other scorers but I would also like to see the other guys explode like Kib, Thomas, and especially Arnold (to help tenderize those FEU front men and make them even a smaller team) to contribute on Wednesday.  Last Saturday’s win was an all-around effort from everyone and the team surely knows that a repeat performance will be necessary to barge into the finals and give themselves a chance to defend the championship.  Actually, I cannot say sit back and relax at this point.  I’d rather say, help support the team on Wednesday and more importantly, pray hard that the team will come out in tip-top fighting form just like what we saw that Saturday.

I will say this once again, whatever happens to this team on Wednesday, I will always be behind them all the way.  I hope all La Sallians also carry the same attitude and fervor not just on Wednesday but all the time.