Coming off a five-day break, and playing only their second game in 13 days made DLSU look out of tune and vulnerable against the UP Fighting Maroons. The 78-72 second round victory was hardly convincing and was secured only in the last few minutes of the game; a far cry from the 89-71 first round beating that the Green Archers gave UP last September 10.
Similar to their previous encounter, La Salle blitzed the Fighting Maroons in the first 10 minutes of play, racing to a 25-9 lead after rookie Aljun Melecio’s three-point shot, before UP scored the last five points of the period to trim DLSU’s lead to 25-14. Team captain Jeron Teng was a man on a mission after missing the Archers’ last two games, producing nine first quarter points on a variety of jumpers and slashes to the basket.
It wasn’t a blowout nor even a double-digit win compared to the first round as UP outscored DLSU 20-16 in the second quarter, tie their Taft-based counterparts 14-all in the third, and again put up more points in the fourth 24-23. The Fighting Maroon’s hot 50% shooting (29/58) from the field, coupled with La Salle’s season-worst 33.7% (26/77) showing made the game interesting up until the final buzzer.
Teams who can withstand La Salle’s first or second quarter onslaught, shoot efficiently from the field, and can go toe-to-toe in the final moments of the game usually have fighting chances against the Green Archers this season. DLSU’s mayhem system was surely unpredictable to guard and defend in the first seven games of Season 79, but teams have caught up and the margin of victories are not as comfortable as they used to be.
UP made the game easier for themselves, for especially in the final frame, by sharing the ball to the tune of 18 assists. La Salle, meanwhile, had a +19 difference on field goal attempts, 77-58, by winning the battle of the boards, 52-39, including a whopping 27-9 advantage in offensive rebounds.
Despite not finishing with a highlight dunk, Big Ben Mbala was a monster on the boards, grabbing 20 caroms to go along his 17 points, an assist, and two steals.
Jeron, returning from a minor procedure, barely missed a step; finishing with 21 points on 8/21 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals. However, Jeron’s return did affect the flow of the Green Archers’ offense.
Aside from taking more than a quarter of the team’s total 77 shots, the ball movement, spacing, and execution were far from perfect. From tallying an average of 16 assists in their wins versus Ateneo and Adamson, games that JT missed, La Salle only registered 12 in yesterday’s UP win. One can understand the graduating Season 76 Finals MVP’s sense of urgency and burning desire to win the championship on his final season, but he must involve his teammates more.
La Salle’s backcourt of future
In addition to Jeron and Thomas Torres, two more Green Archers are playing their final year: Jason Perkins and Julian Sargent. Despite the pending departure of the four, the future of La Salle looks to be in good hands. The fearlessness, great court awareness, and vision of Melecio coupled with Ricci Rivero’s athleticism and smooth moves gives the Green and White gallery some sort of assurance in the coming seasons.
Both finished the game with nine points apiece, and combined for five of the team’s eight total three-point baskets. Another great trait that can be seen from the two is their willingness to listen and learn from their veteran teammates; Aljun from fellow point guards Torres and Kib Montalbo, and Ricci from older brother Prince.
Expect another tough game and matchup for the Green Archers as they take their immaculate 9-0 record against a suddenly struggling 4-5 NU Bulldogs on Wednesday, October 19 at the FilOil Flying V Centre.
Animo La Salle!