By the time the buzzer sounded to signal intermission, it seemed like mayhem got stuck in the notorious EDSA traffic as the DLSU Green Archers were only leading in single digits, 44-35. The afternoon rains and surprise changes in the starting five might have dampen La Salle’s first half. Despite forcing the UST Growling Tigers to commit 18 turnovers that led to 15 fast break points, the Taft-based squad was hardly firing on all cylinders, giving everyone in the Green and White gallery scares and worries.
And them mayhem finally decided to crash the party at the start of the third quarter. A quick 15-2 run, with eight points coming from Cameroonian big man Ben Mbala, not only ballooned the Green Archers’ lead to 59-37, but completely changed the complexion of the game. The 2:49 run not only physically beat the players of UST, but also mentally and psychologically forced the Growling Tigers’ coaching staff to virtually waive the white flag.
When all debris settled, and the final whistle blown, the result spoke for themselves: 40 turnovers by UST, leading to 34 points off turnovers; a 100-62 final tally, the league’s second highest margin in six seasons; and still a blemish-free 3-0 win-loss record for DLSU.
Even with team captain Jeron Teng struggling to get his 13 points on 6/20 shooting and 1/6 from the free throw line, there was a plethora of offensive and defensive weapons that new DLSU coach Aldin Ayo had at his disposal. Mbala had a dunk-free stat line of 18 points, 16 rebounds, and one block, while starting point guard Thomas Torres finally had his first double-digit scoring game of the season with 11 points.
Julian Sargent, starting in place of Jeron, wrecked havoc on both ends of the floor and was rewarded with seven points. Rookie Justine Baltazar, despite fouling out, scoring only two points, and missing all seven field goal attempts, swatted UST’s shots like he was a member of the Green Spikers. In 12 minutes, the Pampanga native hauled down eight boards while tallying five of La Salle’s total blocked shots.
DLSU’s crack rotation of guards: Kib Montalbo, Jollo Go, Andrei Caracut, and rookie Aljun Melecio combined for 28 of the Green Archers’ total 49 bench points.
Only Renzo Subido (18 points) and veteran guard Jon Sheriff (11 points) got going for the Espanya-based squad with a combined 29 points, but half of their output were scored when only the final score and the Green Archer’s winning margin was at stake. With the outcome well in favor of La Salle, coach Ayo was again able to insert most of his rookies to gain playing time and experience. Ricci Rivero wowed the crowd and shows flashes of brilliance by hitting a corner three and scoring a break-away reverse dunk.
When will Ayo smile?
Despite La Salle hitting the century mark on offense and a disruptive defense, coach Ayo never once smiled during the post-victory press conference; preaching impatience, poor execution on offense, and wrong positioning in the first half as the reasons why the Growling Tigers were able to keep within striking distance of their Taft-based counterparts.
Believing that there’s much to improve on both ends of the floor, the NCAA champion coach flashed his unpredictability card in this game by starting the younger Rivero and Sargent to counter UST’s tactics, while at the same time kept other UAAP teams guessing DLSU’s coaching decisions.
Practice your free throws
The funny thing about blowouts is that shortcomings are usually omitted by the common fan. After committing 27 and 26 turnovers against FEU and UP respectively, the 22 errors versus UST was a definite improvement, but the charity stripe, especially with the team going 20/34, is one area of weakness that the team must address.
Facing a disciplined and fundamentally-sound team like the NU Bulldogs on Sunday, every point will count and every error magnified when the two team take the Smart Araneta floor.
On a last note, veteran power forward Jason Perkins was already in playing attire and warming up when the Green Archers took their lay-up lines. Despite not looking in game-shape and missing all three UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball games so far, adding the Hefty Lefty’s versatile game, leadership, and experience to an already loaded DLSU lineup should only make other UAAP teams have sleepless nights.
Animo La Salle!