The best thing when the final buzzer sounded was that, based on their current standings, La Salle and UE won’t have to meet again until Season 79. It also means, for this year at least, saying goodbye to the vaunted Pumaren full-court press that has so far forced the Green Archers to commit 126 turnovers over the past two years.
Although DLSU won the game, 72-64 and swept the Red Warriors this season, calling both victories ‘comfortable’ is definitely out of the question. Great efforts by Jeron Teng (20 points, six rebounds, three assists in an almost-no-relief, 38-minute effort) and Tomas Torres (15 points, five rebounds and one assist) were equally balanced by support from Larry Muyang, Prince Rivero and Josh Torralba who combined for 25 points, 23 rebounds.
Despite having only slim chances of getting the twice-to-beat incentive for the Final Four, there was still a sense of urgency from the Green Archers knowing that every win and loss from here on will decide whether the team gets into the playoffs or not.
After 18 minutes of nip and tuck first half play, a Torres-led 10-2 run in the last minute and a half swung the momentum in La Salle’s favor and gave the Green and White squad a 41-30 intermission lead. Getting outscored and out-hustled 14-20 in the third quarter felt like deja vu from the DLSU’s 13-22 4th quarter meltdown against UST.
The Red Warriors were able to trim the lead to as close as one point, 42-43, halfway through the third period after a Chris Javier put back. Instead of crumbling to the pressure, the composure and response that the Archers showed in the final 15 minutes of play showed maturity, teamwork and trust that bodes well for future matches.
Always be ready
Despite getting limited playing time against Ateneo and being not utilized last game against UST, I have to give credit to rookie Larry Muyang for staying prepared when the coaching staff made him enter the game. His nine point, 11 rebound (five offensive) outing included a couple of big put backs at the end of the third frame to keep La Salle afloat, 55-50.
Despite tweaking his ankle early in the 4th quarter, Muyang shrugged off the pain, returned to the game and went on to score the last of his points from a great pass by Prince Rivero for a 66-58 lead with 3:41 to go. One notable ‘bad’ habit by Larry though is his tendency to rebound a miss using only one hand.
There were a couple of instances when a sure defensive rebound returned to UE’s possession because of Muyang’s tendency to claw to ball with his dominant hand. La Salle might have won the rebound battle, 54-40 but I’d rather see fundamental basketball executed perfectly than flashy, uncalled for play.
Signs of improvement
The statistics do not lie. The Green Archers won because of good offense and better defense. After making only 22/58 (37.9%) field goals from their first encounter, La Salle made three more shots (25/58) for a respectable 43.1% from the field. Free throw percentage has also improved as DLSU rebounded from a 24/35 (68.59%) first round outing to make 19/26 (73.08%) yesterday.
La Salle’s defense also held its end of the bargain by limiting the efficiency of UE’s main scorers. While Emil Palma and Chris Javier did finish with 14 points a piece, it took them 29 shots to a achieve that scoring output. Premium coverage on UE’s wing scorers Edison Batiller and Paul Varilla (combined 6/26 shooting) also contributed to the Red Warriors’ dismal 30.5% (25/82) shooting overall.
For the second straight game, leading Rookie of the Year (ROY) candidate Andrei Caracut failed to hear his name called in the game. While Andrei was battling an illness last game against UST, coach Juno Sauler just took precaution with his blue-chip recruit as he revealed that Andrei has seen just two days of practice before the UE game.
Another regular rotation player who failed to get playing time was Abu Tratter. For the past two games, Abu has been contributing solidly against Ateneo and UST; producing a combined 11 points and six rebounds on 6/6 shooting against the quality imports of the Blue Eagles (Chibueze Ikeh) and Growling Tigers (Karim Abdul).
Coach Juno, despite and fast-paced game and UE deploying their press for the whole, 40-minute game, relied on only nine Archers to battle it out with the Red Warriors. I’m hoping that both Andrei and Abu do get their numbers called on Sunday as we need the all firepower we can get against league-leading Far Eastern Tamaraws.
Animo La Salle!