Greenstincts: Dear Green Archers, I wish I knew how to quit you

I have been meaning to use the title above for the entire second round of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament; now, as we bid the Green Archers’ Season 78 goodbye, seems like the most appropriate headline as well as personal sentiment on La Salle’s 6-8 win-loss record and 5th place finish in the standings.

With their proverbial backs against the wall, La Salle turned a 19-22 first quarter deficit into a 38-29 halftime lead by limiting the Tamaraws to seven points and three made field goals in the next 10 minutes. For the nth time this season, DLSU found itself in a nice groove and protecting a 52-37 lead until the closing moments of the third quarter.

Mac Belo and rookie Steve Holmqvist combined for an 8-0 run to trim La Salle’s lead to seven, 52-45 and at the same time gave the Green and White gallery nervous thoughts and feelings heading into the final frame. With a nothing-to-gain situation, FEU coach Nash Racela opted to limit the minutes of his big guns Belo and Mike Tolomia, but the Green Archers could not capitalize on the golden opportunity to force a playoff for the final slot in the Final Four.

Forward Roger Pogoy went on a personal 11-0 rally, spiked by three three-point bombs to turn the tide in FEU’s favor, 63-61 with 2:40 to go. Jeron Teng managed to get the Archers to as close a one point on two occasions, the last with 7.0 seconds to go with the score at 68-69, but the Tams refused to go into their semifinal matchup against Ateneo with a three-game losing streak.

Playing big minutes resulted into Jeron, Prince Rivero and Tomas Torres getting heavy legs and unable to lift the Green Archers when it mattered most. Just like in their past seven losses (and even during their six wins), struggling to make a basket in a five to six minute stretch or getting outscored in the 3rd or 4th quarter made all the difference between winning and losing.

After sharing the ball and registering eight assists at intermission, La Salle could only muster two at the third period and zero in the fourth; highlighting the players’ tendencies to lose trust in each other during crunch time. DLSU also went from hitting 5/10 free throws at the half to only getting two courtesy of two Jeron and-one plays while giving FEU a +6 advantage in FT’s made and +11 in attempts (13/23 overall).

Five item wish list for Season 79
Minutes after DLSU’s UAAP Season 78 ended, thoughts of improvements for a comeback next year quickly followed. With no Green Archer expected to leave due to graduation, another offseason of chemistry and development should bode well going into Season 79.

Dominate the boards. In five of the eight losses of DLSU, the team was out-rebounded by a combined 50 boards. Coach Juno Sauler would insert either Larry Muyang or Abu Tratter as his starting center but would utilize a smaller lineup in the latter stages of the game; inserting his best five gave La Salle chances to catchup but also meant giving up rebounds on both ends of the floor.

Size and strength. Nine rookies in the 15-man lineup meant that a lot of players have yet to develop physical strength to go up against the veteran lineups of UST, FEU and even to some extent, UP. Perimeter players like Andrei Caracut, Jolo Go and Renzo Navarro are skilled on the offensive end but have to improve their defense drastically.

It really didn’t help the Archers’ cause that Torres and the three rookies mentioned are small compared to the likes of UST’s Ed Daquioag, FEU’s Mike Tolomia and Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal. Opposing coaches were quick to exploit DLSU’s size disadvantage at the one and two spots by posting them up, resulting into easy baskets.

Continued development of the team. There’s really no way to go from hereon but up for the young players and rookies in the Green Archer lineup. Prince showed flashes of brilliance in the post and tenacity on both ends of the court but must develop a reliable mid-range jump shot in order to be truly unstoppable next season.

Muyang and Andrew Langston gave good production and displayed potential in limited minutes but need to bulk up and gain physical strength in order to contribute consistently. Larry needs to continue to move without the ball, be ready to shoot when drop passes go his way and become a force on the glass. Andrew meanwhile has to be the team’s 3-and-D player; a deadly shooter from beyond the arc while at the same time guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player.

Improved play calling from the bench. As much as the Green Archers were doomed on the court, there were also lapses by the La Salle bench when it came to tactics, substitution patters and utilization of player’s minutes. Whether it was calling a timeout too late to stop a rally (1st round vs. NU) or getting out-coached and outplayed by better teams and systems (UST and FEU sweeps), the DLSU coaching staff also needs to get better next year.

Year three of the Juno Sauler era was by far the worst; not only with the 6-8 win-loss record and missing out on the Final Four but save for the UE Red Warriors, all the other UAAP schools managed to pin a loss on the Green Archers.

Improved FT shooting. Aside from rebounding, hitting free throws also win the game. In fourteen UAAP matches, La Salle was only able to shoot better than 70% twice: 17/22, 77.3% vs NU (R1) and 19/26, 73.1% vs Adamson (R2) while shooting 229/369 (62.1%) overall for the season.

Aside from giving up free points, missing free throws stalls the team’s momentum and takes away a player’s confidence from a made field goal or good defensive play. The late comebacks (that went for nothing) and tight losses would have been prevented had the team shot better from the charity stripe.

It will be a long, long year of soul searching and development to try to recreate the magic formula that won the Green Archers the title in 2013. As much as the Lasallian community want to single out Juno Sauler’s coaching or Jeron for shooting too much, the Green Archers win as team and they lose as a team.

For now, it best to support and cheer the La Salle teams in other UAAP events. The Green and Lady Paddlers have already swept the Table Tennis competitions while Kim Fajardo and Cyd Demecillo gave the Lady Spikers its first beach volleyball crown. The Lady Archers are in a good spot and DLSU currently leads the general championship in the senior’s division and has a good shot at winning a third overall crown in four years.

Animo La Salle!