De La Salle versus National U Part Two was really a perfect example of how a system built on the foundation of basic fundamentals and teamwork can overcome brilliant individual performances. When NU’s Kyle Neypes went down with an ankle injury, J-Jay Alejandro stepped-up and torched the Green Archers’ defense; highlighted by a personal 8-0 run with 5:12 to go in the 4th to turn a 58-57 deficit to a 65-58 lead.
In contrast, Jeron Teng and Andrei Caracut did combine for 43 points, seven rebounds and four assists but with top perimeter defender Julian Sargent unable to play, no one filled his role in stopping Alejandro who did most of his damage in the second half (23 of 25 total points).
Despite being outscored, out-rebounded (48-37) and dishing out less assists (15-12) for the game, DLSU did manage to give the Bulldogs a little scare in the closing moments as a three-point basket by Tomas Torres trimmed NU’s lead to only 73-75.
Well-scouted Prince Archer
After scoring his UAAP career-high 23 points (on 9/13 shooting) and grabbing 11 rebounds against the Adamson Falcons, sophomore sensation Prince Rivero had a more modest five point (2/7 from the field), six rebound and two assist outing versus the Bulldogs. NU’s coaching staff and scouts did their homework well as Prince was double-teamed whenever he got the ball on the low block, preventing him from being truly effective like he was in the Adamson game.
As talented, poised and skilled as Rivero is, passing out of double teams and having a consistent mid-range jumper are two items of my wish list for the former LSGH standout. On the bright side, Prince was able to at least contain the production NU’s import, Alfred Aroga to the tune of seven points, 11 rebounds and five assist.
The challenge to Rivero from hereon is to be able to consistently have a solid double-double game while at the same time providing excellent defense on the other team’s big men.
Caracut slowly regaining form
The Andrei Caracut from the first round of Season 78 is back. Keeping La Salle afloat in the second quarter were three-point baskets made by Andrei (3) and Renzo Navarro (1); despite hitting just a third of their shots (10/30), DLSU was only trailing by two, 30-32, at the half thanks to Caracut slowly regaining his deadly shooting form.
Caracut could have easily been the scapegoat in the 74-75 loss to Adamson thanks to his last-chance shot blunder but it was clear that he was not yet 100% in that game. Coming off the bench against NU, Andrei had his first double-digit scoring in a month (16 points against UE last September 27) with a stat line of 18 points on 4/10 three-point shooting with one rebound, two assists and a steal.
Again, similar to Prince, the challenge to Andrei is to continue providing consistent scoring from the bench; be ready to shoot when teams double Jeron or Jason and be able to knock down booming treys throughout the game.
Magic number: two wins
Thanks to the All Saints/Souls break, the Green Archers have an 11-day break before facing third-placer Ateneo Blue Eagles (7-4) on November 8 before ending their elimination assignments against UP (11/11) and FEU. NU (5-7) rounds out their elimination schedule against UP and FEU as well.
In an ideal world, the Green Archers need to win all their remaining games to enter the Final Four without any complications. Winning two of three matches (UP and Ateneo) clinches at least a playoff for the final slot against most probably National U; since UP (3-7) would have 8 losses in that scenario and UE (also 3-7) has already been beaten twice by La Salle this year.
Making it to the Final Four is a tall order for a team made up of five 4th year players, a sophomore and nine rookies. After finishing the elimination round at 4-3, the team has only beaten the Red Warriors in the second round while making questionable end-game decisions and breaks of the game going against them against UST (79-81), one-point loss to Adamson and NU.
Whatever happens in the next three games, the second round of Season 78 is already Coach Juno Sauler’s worst in three years. After a 7-0 sweep two years ago en route to the title, the team posted twin 5-2 records last year and fought FEU in a virtual best-of-three semifinals.
All the bashing and calling for Coach Juno’s head this year won’t do the team any good at this stage. With three games left in the second round, anything can happen. Until La Salle’s UAAP men’s basketball season is over, it’s best to see the glass still half-full instead of being half-empty and try to ask not what the team can do for you but what you can do for the Green Archers.
Animo La Salle!