A little more than 12 hours after the final buzzer sounded and it hasn’t still sinked in. The Season 77 men’s basketball tournament, as far as the De La Salle Green Archers are concerned is over. No more cheers and chants, at least until November comes and the volleyball season starts.
For the next nine months or so, a great majority of the Lasallian faithful would no longer have to put their index fingers high up in the air when an Archer is shooting a free throw; no more chants of “defense!”, nor witty post-win one-liners from head coach Juno Sauler.
For the remaining players eligible to play next year, the pre and post-season leagues like the Fil-Oil Flying V and PCCL would definitely help to to try to mend the wounds caused by Mac Belo’s last second dagger, but the pain and damage, both mentally and psychologically will linger for at least a few more days, even weeks.
Whether you were in the Smart Araneta Coliseum or got stuck in traffic and was only able to catch a portion of the game, the only important moment that will be played endlessly in UAAP highlights was the last 24:4 seconds of the game. 24 eternal seconds that Lasallians will try to move on from for the next days, weeks and months while FEU fans will try to hold on to that Tolomia-Belo two-man shining moment until at least the start of their final series against National U on Saturday.
Neither team led by more than seven, proof of the quality of the match where the winner plays for the title and the loser goes home and ponders what could have been. Talks of a UAAP dynasty for the defending champions and pre-season favorites DLSU, ended before it even started, but for a coach and team that takes things one practice, one play and one game at a time, this temporary setback is just that, temporary.
As hindsight is 20/20, there were a few things: decisions, breaks of the game and moments that could have altered the result in favor of the Green Archers. That sideline two-man game has been killing La Salle the whole season. Mike Tolomia hit two booming triples during the teams’ first encounter, then made one hell of a setup for Belo to hit that buzzer three.
It was a pick-you-poison kind of deal for Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent. Leaving Tolomia on single coverage and the 4th year FEU guard might have been the one to take the game-winner. Instead, the double team coverage was hard with Perkins overcommitting to prevent Tolomia from taking an outside attempt. But the close-out to a wide-open Belo was soft and a split second late, owing to Tolomia blocking out the two La Salle defenders.
After a season of having 50% or better free throw percentage in all games, the Archers’ inability to convert their freebies in the most crucial game left them wanting. Granted, the Tamaraws were only able to make 10 out of 20 but La Salle was the worse team, hitting just nine from 23 awarded to them. Norbert Torres and Jason could have made things a bit more interesting had they shot all four free throws given to them in the last 2:08 of the game.
Lastly, two questionable long shots by the Almond Vosotros with plenty of time left on the La Salle shot clock epitomizes the wasted chances La Salle had throughout the game.
No 2 > 3, but 17 > 21
It was during Season 70 when La Salle overcame the twice-to-beat advantage of Ateneo to advance to the finals. Despite winning just two games the whole season against three for the Blue Eagles, DLSU won “the games that mattered most”, defied the odds during the semis and again in the finals, sweeping the 14-0 UE Red Warriors for title no. 7.
History would not be repeated as the Green Archers yielded four games in five matches against FEU this season. Albeit missing league MVPs and top scorers RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo, the Tams’ more balance and disciplined attack was a tough nut to crack for coach Juno and his wards. Ironically, the Tamaraws’ combined winning margin of 17 (77-82, 70-74, 60-65, 67-64) was less than the 21 point lead DLSU had in their lone 94-73 win last September 27.
Farewell to the seniors
Personally, I will gladly trade the huge 21-point blowout win last Saturday to play just one more UAAP game, even just one more offensive possession to try to extend the game into overtime. But that’s just me.
The farewell game to the team’s graduating players: Norbert, Almond and Yutien Andrada might not have ended under ideal circumstances but the they will forever be remembered as student-athletes who wore the Green and White uniform proudly, played the right way and fought gallantly as members of the Green Archers.
As a community still in shock, the processes of healing and moving on will slowly come. In victory and in defeat, the whole Lasallian community can take pleasure with the fact that we are the greatest fans in the UAAP. We take pride, in equal measure, when our athletic teams win the title or come out short. We cheer our hearts out for our beloved teams but never look down or make silly chants and prejudice remarks to our opponents.
Overcoming adversity, whether injuries or illness, unfavorable scheduling decisions and other non-basketball related off-court issues is a testament to the team’s desire to lift the trophy for the second year in a row. Faith can only go as far as fate, as the basketball gods denied the Archers’ back-to-back bid.
With retooling via recruitment and internal development of the remaining Green Archers, La Salle alumni, supporters and fans alike can only look forward to the next UAAP season. As July 2015 could not come soon enough, this loss will serve as fuel and motivation for next year and a reminder to the players and the rest of the team: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.