For the sake of the Lasallian community, I really hope that last Sunday’s 77-93 drubbing was the Green Archers finally hitting rockbottom. From a bad 66-71 Wednesday loss to the UP Fighting Maroons, things only went worse during the final 15 minutes against the FEU Tamaraws; shaking not only what little confidence remains in the team but also of the faith of its avid supporters.
For those lucky enough to be at the Mall of Asia Arena, the 20-0 “bomb” actually felt like a long-range, stealth bullet; from a score of 54-57 after a Jeron Teng jumper, FEU’s lead quickly swelled to 64-54 without anyone really noticing it. The last of Achie Iñigo’s trey to end the third quarter finally made me realize that, hey, the Green Archers were down in a big way, 54-77.
It was actually the 4th quarter, rather than the previous one that exposed the character and lack of mental toughness of the team. Facing adversity should have brought the Green Archers together: try to trim the Tams lead one basket at a time and defend FEU’s perimeter guys better. But instead, ill-advised, bricked jumpers and forced one-on-one drives to the baskets were the tactics of choice in the final 10 minutes of the game.
It might get a little bit worse before things get better… but first, we got to put a little faith on the team.
Sure, La Salle was able to trim the lead to 14, 73-87 after Teng’s layup with 2:20 to go, but from all angles, the game was practically over. Not only were the offensive and defensive plays and schemes of the Green Archers broken, but also their collective teamwork and cohesiveness as well.
The will to fight and battle and try to salvage a decent final margin was evident, but even Jeron’s one-man wrecking crew stat line of 29 points, 10 rebounds and four assists went for nothing without a good supporting cast.
Coach Juno Sauler tinkered with his starting five, with rookie Jolo Go getting the starting nod over an inconsistent Tomas Torres and inserting Julian Sargent over Jason Perkins. It worked for the first quarter as La Salle put up its largest lead of 25-17 after a Perkins jumper. Thanks to Jeron’s 19 first half points, DLSU as well within striking distance at intermission, 43-45.
Complete FEU dominance
FEU not only dominated the latter stages of the match but also the stat sheet as well. Controlling the boards 53-40, only allowed La Salle one-shot possessions and dictated a slower pace of the game, where the Tamaraws had the height and skills advantage at halfcourt. With La Salle’s outside gunners going cold, most of the offense came inside the paint through post-ups and drives, resulting into DLSU taking a 28-17 advantage in free throw attempts; an advantage the Archers couldn’t capitalize by missing 11/28.
The Tams’ great ball movement (22-8 advantage in assists), defense (8-3 blocks) and hot shooting (14/34, 41% from the three-point area, 47.9% overall) made mincemeat of whatever lineup Sauler inserted throughout the game. The biggest advantage that FEU had was its deep bench; as La Salle would double the likes of Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia and Roger Pogoy, the trio quickly found open teammates for uncontested threes.
Not counting the output and attempts of the FEU triumvirate, the rest of the squad shot the lights out by going 8/17 from long range and gave the Season 77 finalist a huge edge in bench points, 45-21.
Finding a silver lining
Rookie Josh Torralba’s debut was rather cut short as he fouled out despite playing only 15 minutes in the game and scored two points. The fact that rookies Larry Muyang and Renzo Navarro produced more (six points combined, one rebound, one block) than veterans Torres and starter Abu Tratter (zero points, one rebound) in less playing time, might mean extended minutes for the two rookies in DLSU’s next games against Adamson and UE.
The match prior to the La Salle-FEU featured two previously unbeaten teams, UST and UP. The crowd cheered and jeered with every basketball, rebound and foul called. Some may call it bandwagoning or simply wanting to experience the Cinderella-like run but no one can argue what winning means not only to a team but also its community.
In a span of eight days, La Salle has played a total of three games against quality opponents. With a 1-2 win-loss record, a lot of factors not limited to fatigue, inadequate offensive and defensive tactics and lack of confidence have shaken the Lasallian community’s faith in its men’s basketball team to the core.
It’s both a little to early in the season and too late, preparation and adjustment-wise to call for heads to roll in the La Salle coaching staff. It might get a little bit worse before things get better (remember Season 76’s 3-4 start, then 7-0 sweep of the second round en route to the title) but first, we got to put a little faith on the team.
Animo La Salle!