Another title to defend.
Another championship lost.
Two years ago, the Green Archers picked up successive championships after winning the UAAP, PCCL, and Filoil. This past year, the Archers had another type of run – they failed to defend all three titles. That’s consistency for you, although not of the desirable kind.
The Green Archers fell 53-79 in the titular game, yielding another crown to NCAA champ San Beda. The defeat extended a losing streak to the Red Lions, after the Archers were swept by the same team in the 2-game PCCL finals, and more recently losing in the first game of the Filoil in overtime.
The disappointing result could either be viewed as a bad end to a bad year, or a poor start to another year. Either way, the team was left with no championships from the previous year.
Going into this tournament, the Archers had racked up respectable results in the UAAP (3rd) and PCCL (2nd), but to most supporters, this was a letdown, considering that going into the season, the Archers had been one of the favorites. A combination of factors, from a short lineup, injuries, luck, plus some ill-advised extracurricular activities all served to torpedo the UAAP title retention bid, which ended at the buzzer with a game-winning trey by FEU’s Mac Belo.
The PCCL lineup featured additions in Ben Mbala, Joshua Torralba, Larry Muyang, and Darryl Pascual to compensate for the departure of Norbert Torres, Yutien Andrada and Almond Vosotros who had played out their eligibility. The team fared well, but faltered in the finals where they were swept by San Beda.
The Filoil has traditionally been considered by our coaches as a way to evaluate new recruits and experiment with various player combinations in preparation for the UAAP, and the 2015 edition was more of the same. Going into this tournament, some of us had hoped that the team would retain the only remaining title it still had.
The Archers featured several new players in rookie guards Caracut, Navarro, Go, together with transferees Torralba (G/F), Muyang (C/PF), and Pascual (F). Missing from last year’s lineup were Robert Bolick (transferred to SBC), Matt Salem (transferred to NU), and Terrence Mustre (transferred to ADU). Holdovers were Thomas Torres, Kib Montalbo, Julian Sargent, Jason Perkins, AVO, Prince Rivero, Abu Tratter, and Jeron Teng. Ben Mbala was held out due to a possible issue with his residency.
The Archers had a fairly good start in the tournament, keeping in step with San Beda to force overtime, but ran out of steam to lose, 80-86. Rookie Andrei Caracut gave a preview of what to expect from him, as he topscored with 22 points on 6/8 shooting from long distance. Veterans Jeron Teng and Kib Montalbo scored 13 points each to keep the Archers in the game.
The second game was a 90-69 blowout win over Lyceum, in which the Archers unveiled their offensive firepower and long range shooting. The team scored 24, 24, and 25 points in the first 3 quarters before easing up in the 4th, while racking up 12 made threes and making a high 18/22 free throws. New recruits Caracut, Torralba and Go topscored with 15, 13, and 11 points respectively, and were supported by Tratter and Rivero who combined for 20 points.
In the third game, UP came looking to create an upset and nearly succeeded, falling only at the end for the Archers to eke out an 82-79 victory. For this game, our outside shooting was notably absent as the team only connected on 3/18 from afar; perhaps the inability to hit the long shots allowed UP to clog the middle, but despite the congestion in the paint, Prince Rivero dominated inside for 25 points and 18 rebounds.
The Archers won their 4th game against UAAP rival UE, 96-82, but lost Kib Montalbo for the season after he went down with an ACL injury. The Derek Pumaren coached Warriors threw a full-court at the Archers for the full 40 minutes, forcing us into 18 turnovers, but ultimately the team prevailed over a rookie-laden UE team. Perhaps in a bid to unsettle our rookies, UE played rough, but the youthful Archers proved to be steadier in the crunch.
Game 5 was against familiar Cebu-based SWU which was aiming to try to break its losing streak against us. Led by former Archer Mac Tallo, SWU was unable to keep pace with the fast starting Archers, and we took the first half with a comfortable 46-31 advantage. SWU came back in the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to 67-60, but the Archers closed it out to take their 4th consecutive win, 90-80.
The Archers faced off against MIT in the next game. In the first half, the Cardinals managed to keep in step with the green-and-white cagers, 46-45, but were overwhelmed in the second half which we took comfortably to get our fifth victory, 96-86.
At this point, our team had been winning games because of our offense which averaged 89 points per game. We were allowing our opponents to score 80.33 points per game.
CEU was our next opponent. The Pink Scorpions, who were coached by former pro Egay Macaraya, had a quick, mobile import as their center and were hardened by their stint in the PBA DLeague. We got off to a good start and led 23-16 after 10 minutes. CEU regrouped in the second and cut the lead to a single point, 37-36 as we were held to just 14 points in the 2nd. Macaraya made some adjustments during the break which worked as they totally dominated the Archers in the second half, outscoring us 41-57. The loss was our first glimpse of how we fare against teams with big, mobile centers who are flanked by accurate shooters from long range. CEU’s good ball movement and quick passing shredded the zone defense we threw at them, allowing them to swing the ball to their wide open shooters in the corner for 12 3pointers. Our zone also failed to keep CEU’s bigs away from the paint, and we lost the battle of the boards, 42-44. One notable decision, or lack of it, was the delay in calling a timeout by our coaches when CEU started to gain momentum in the pivotal 3rd quarter when they gained their 5point lead; by the time Juno sued for time, the Scorpions were rolling and our game was in disarray, and we were never able to recover. This was our first blowout loss, 78-93.
Next up was UST which was trying to get to the playoffs with a win against us. The Tigers were without Ferrer, who was with the national team in the SEA Games together with Prince Rivero. As expected, UST played for pride and took it to us from the start to take the first half, 40-42, led by guard Daquiaog. Jeron took up the scoring slack for us with 10 in the first half. We equalized after 3 quarters at 57-all, then battled UST on even terms to narrowly edge them, 84-82. The familiar free throw woes resurfaced – we made only 15/29, and this poor shooting contributed to the close game. Despite the win, the Archers’ performance in the closing stages was cause for worry, because a combination of bad on-court decisions and delayed reactions from the coaches all contributed to the unnecessarily close finish. The closing seconds were a comedy of errors: two ball handling errors by Torres were negated by a bad inbound by UST with 6 seconds to go with our lead only at 2 points enabling us to hold on for an unnecessarily close victory. This was effectively a win-or-go-home game, and our team was lucky to scrape through.
The first playoff game was against Perpetual Help, and the Archers started off well, racing to 21-16 and 44-33 leads after the first quarter and halftime respectively. It seemed as the team had finally gotten over the errors that had plagued them in the previous game. Perpetual’s long and tall import Akhuetie dominated in the paint against our smaller frontliners, as the Daltas hung tough in the second half to keep the game close after the halftime break, outscoring us 37-46 to threaten until the final buzzer which saw us win 81-79. This was the second game we won by just a basket, and the second half performance reflected the opponents’ adjustments while our game plans remained static. This was another high scoring game, and including this game we allowed the opponents to average 81.78 points while we scored an average of 86.33 ppg.
The final 4 opponent was UAAP tormentor FEU, and this time the Archers came looking for payback. From the opening tip, the Archers came out firing, scoring 42 in the first half while taking a double digit lead they maintained throughout most of the game. The Archers were without Prince Rivero, while FEU was missing Mac Belo, both of whom were with the national team in the SEA Games. The closest FEU got was 7 points in the 4th quarter, but our team proved up to the challenge to match FEU’s output of 42 points in the second half to preserve the 13 point margin at the end, 84-71.
Up in the one-game playoff was the SBC Red Lions, who were missing Baser Amer as well. The Archers started well, taking the first quarter 13-8 as both teams sputtered with their offense. However, the Lions hit their stride in the second quarter to pull away, 26-32 with the Archers struggling to hit their shots. The second half was one-sided, with the San Beda defensive sets and occasional full court press shutting down our offense and pressuring us on offense, resulting in our 21 turnovers. We were routed in the second half, 27-47 to suffer our biggest and most embarrassing loss, 53-79. Our lack of ceiling also told on the battle of the boards, which we lost 33-42. The Red Lions pulled away with our team collapsing into a myriad of errors. The final 26point deficit was a glaring indication of the current state of preparedness of the team. It was also a worrying indication that the team had collapsed under pressure in a championship game.
So what can we glean from the team’s performance in the Filoil?
- We’re a long way from being ready. The coaches treated the Filoil as a testbed, and didn’t employ too many plays. Maybe they didn’t want to get scouted. Whatever the reasons, the Archers didn’t give it their 100%. And the coaches apparently didn’t really care whether we defended our title. Which is frustrating and disappointing.
- We had some good additions in our rookies. Caracut is going to be a force to reckon with in the future. He has game smarts, plays head-up guard ball, has great handles, and a good shot. He’s arguably a better player than the more experience Torres, with his ability to constantly assess the situation, while Torres, when he decides to beat the press by himself, puts his head down, dribbles the ball hard and tries to dribble downcourt all by his lonesome; the result is usually a turnover. Torralba is a 2-way player, good at both ends but has been a bit injury prone. Muyang reminds many of Norbert Torres, beefy and long, but with a better shot. Navarro is a pass-first pg, good ball handler and passer, but needs to work on his shot. Jollo Go was a bit of a disappointment as far as shooting was concerned, but is also a good ballhandler and works hard on defense. Daryl Pascual is the question mark, hardly used despite his height and ability to space the floor with his shooting.
- Something has to be done about our players’ conditioning. We probably lost Kib Montalbo for the season with an ACL, the 6th or 7th such injury to hit our varsity teams. Something’s wrong when so many of our players suffer knee injuries (WVT-Ara Galang, Mika Esperanza, Des Cheng, Cienne Cruz twice). There is clearly something wrong about the way the players are being prepared, and someone has to look into that. It’s the players who sacrifice the most with that kind of injury. This one is on the school.
- Our coaches will have to pay closer attention to the game and be prepared to take action in a timely manner. One or two plays can make a difference because of a critical shift in momentum, and in a close game, a stop or unsupervised/botched offensive can directly lead to a win or loss. In several games, our coach was slow to call a timeout when the opponents were grabbing the momentum from us. We would take double digit leads in the first half with good starts, but after the half, several of our opponents jumped on us and had runs which could have been stopped by early timeouts. This falls into the “what was he thinking?” category.
- Our primary point guard, Torres, has to mature if he is to take a critical role on the team. For example, he has to learn to strike a balance between getting points for himself (as a “Points Guard”) and facilitating for his teammates (“Point Guard”). In several games, Torres would look to shoot instead of looking for better options. Yes, he can score, but is that his primary role given that we have many other shooters on the team? His decision making also needs a significant upgrade. Against UST, for example, against UST’s desperate press in the closing seconds, he chose to put his head down and dribble down the sidelines against a trap and lost the ball twice, giving the Tigers a chance to tie the game. Luckily for us, they proved to be equally inept under pressure, and failed to properly inbound the ball, handing it back to us. As a 4th year guard, Torres must show the maturity and leadership expected of someone with his exposure, otherwise our rookie guards Caracut and Navarro might just take his role.
- Our coaches must take a holistic and hands-on role over the players’ activities, on and off the court. The school has oversight power over their activities, and as its employee the coach is an extension of the school. Extra curriculars which can potentially affect the players’ performance, health, or eligibility should all pass scrutiny. A case in point, and one that had an indirect effect on the Filoil, was Ben Mbala’s participation in a “benefit” tournament. The risk of an eligibility issue forced the team to hold him out of the lineup and this affected our ability to compete in the paint. We lost the battle of the boards against teams with big, mobile imports, and if Mbala were in the lineup, we could have been more competitive. There should be a protocol that any participation in any event, sports-related or not, should have a tacit approval of the school and coaches. No approval, no joining, unless the player is willing to take any consequential disciplinary action. The rules should be made very clear when the player is accepted on the team.
- Again on the coaches. They must strike a good balance between letting players make on-court decisions and when the coaches should dictate what to do. They have to remember that while our players are good, they do not necessarily the same maturity and game perspective as the coaches have on the sideline. We don’t see the coaches making too many in-game adjustments, they let the players play, sometimes with poor consequences, so the coaches should look at taking more control, particularly in critical situations.
- Defense is a particular concern. We allowed the opponents to average 80.54 ppg against us, and we won by outscoring them, 83.09 ppg. Defense has always been an anchor of the La Salle game, and when opponents average 80 points, it’s clear our defense has been porous. Our zone defense has not been effective, good passing and ball handling has allowed opponents to drive into the paint for open shots or passes to open bigs under the goal, and the opposing frontliners were able to crash the offensive boards against our undersized frontline. AVO was a no-show in most of the games for whatever reason, and our lack of height told on our competitiveness.
- Recruitment should take a more holistic view, and include the academic ability, mental toughness and maturity, as well as hunger and determination to be successful. Unlike other schools which recruit and keep players regardless of their ability to handle the academic demands, La Salle has dropped key players because of academics (and has not hesitated to say so instead of calling academic ineligibility by another term). It will be a waste of time to get a player, make him go through residency, only for him to have a one-and-done because of grades. The willingness and desire to succeed as a Green Archer should also be a major criterion as to whether to recruit or keep a player. Too many extra curricular activities can and do indicate a lack of focus, which can and does result in decreased performance, as in the case of one of our players.
- Our free throw shooting still sucks. In most games, we made around only 60%, and when a game is decided by 5 points or less, those missed fts directly contribute to a loss or win. The coaches apparently haven’t made headway in this crucial area.
- Lastly, the players should remain committed to the collective success of the team. It is a truism that there is no “I” in the word “team”. Good personal stats do not necessarily equate to team success. The San Antonio Spurs are a prime example of a team whose players have willingly subordinated their egos to promote the team concept. They give up good shots to get a better or best shot, and this teamwork has allowed them to be the most consistently successful NBA franchise. That’s a basketball organization worthy of emulation.
It’s a couple of months to the UAAP, and there remains much work to be done. While retaining the Filoil title was a nice to have (and it was frustrating that we didn’t), the real objective is to retake the UAAP championship. With the full support given by the school and team management headed by Danding Cojuangco, there is no reason for the team not to improve on their 3rd place finish last year. And there better not be any excuses, because none will be acceptable.