The 84-78 final scoreline does not really tell the whole story of DLSU’s win no. 6 versus a nothing-to-lose, 0-5 but scrappy UE Red Warriors team. Whatever pre-game aspirations of this being an easy game and sure victory for the league leader against the tail-ender squad vanished in the fourth period where the Green Archers’ 44-30 halftime lead was trimmed to a little as four, 78-74, with 1:39 remaining in the game clock.
The Red Warriors may have never led anytime during the game, but their physical play and tough antics certainly got under the skin of several members of the team. The UE full-court press even indirectly caused the quick and bizarre ejection of DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo; a non-call on a Thomas Torres turnover caused Ayo to grab a pair of eyeglasses and mockingly tried to put on a referee, resulting to two quick techs and an early exit for the former NCAA champion coach.
The sideshow, while amusing to ordinary fans, did not help the Green Archers’ cause as their play and decision-making in the second half was far from sharp, to say the least. After scoring eight points in the third, including a highlight alley-oop off a pass from Torres, La Salle center Ben Mbala was silenced in the last 10 minutes of the game while team captain Jeron Teng scored only one of his total seven points after intermission.
The loss of their anchor and shepherd in coach Ayo was not only taking a toll on their turnover number, a whopping 36 forced errors, but was also disrupting their flow on offense. With the DLSU starters unable to keep it together, two key cogs in last year’s rotation: Season 78 Rookie of the Year Andrei Caracut and Prince Rivero seemingly decided that this is their moment to showcase what they are capable of doing on the hardcourt.
Starting at the 2:04 mark of the third, Rivero put in the work inside the shaded area and got to the line three consecutive times, hitting 5/6, and allowing La Salle to keep a seven-point lead, 62-55, at the end of the third. In 10 minutes of playing time, the former La Salle Greenhills standout scored 11 points (1/1 FG, 9/10 free throws), added eight rebounds, and dished out two assists.
Despite getting less time on the court due to the emergence of the rookie Justine Baltazar and the improvement of Abu Tratter, the Prince Archer never held his head down, stayed positive by being ready, and even gave encouragement to the team’s younger players. Caracut meanwhile made two of the team’s total four three-pointers, including one from about a foot from the three-point line with 1:01 to go for an 81-74 buffer for La Salle.
The former San Beda Red Cub would finish the game with nine points, four rebounds, and two assists. More importantly Rivero and Caracut were part of the La Salle bench that scored a whopping 54 points as Baltazar (14), Kib Montalbo (9), Aljun Melecio (5), Jollo Go (4), and the debuting Jason Perkins (2) would not only outscore their Red Warrior bench counterparts but also the starting fives of both DLSU (30) and UE (48).
Each UAAP game and opponent is different. Despite facing another team utilizing the vaunted Pumaren full-court press, the game and outcome cannot be pre-determined by past results. Sweeping the first round, or the whole elimination round, may not really be in the team’s big picture but I like the way the team is being tested game by game differently, and how one or two players naturally stand up and take charge of facing the challenge head-on.
The come-from-behind win against NU showed great resilience and fight in the Green Archers while teamwork and balance scoring paved the way against the Adamson Falcons. The win against the Red Warriors showcased not only the team’s depth but also ability to weather UE’s storm even without their coaching compass in Ayo.
Other teams will improve in the second round and will already be aware of DLSU’s modus operadi, its up to the La Salle coaching staff and the players to spring a few more surprises, keep playing mayhem basketball, and not fall for other teams’ tricks and antics.
The Green Archers round out their elimination assignment and a possible first-round sweep when they go up against the Ateneo Blue Eagles on Sunday, October 2, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Animo La Salle!