Whatever avenue of pre-game ritual or superstition you follow: not wearing your “lucky” shirt, buying coffee from a certain brand inside the playing venue, or simply not praying hard enough, the fact of the matter is that DLSU’s streak is over. Fans and supporters can blame the 71-83 loss to overconfidence, cockiness, or the long 12-day break, but the better team who executed the perfect game plan won after the final buzzer.
The Blue Eagles dominated almost every facet of the game; combining crisp, unselfish offense (33/65 shooting, 50.77% and 20 assists) with good, hard-nosed defense (23/80 shooting for DLSU, 28.75%). After La Salle’s quick 5-0 lead courtesy of Andrei Caracut’s three and team captain Jeron Teng’s jumper, Ateneo went on a 23-11 tear, limiting the Green Archers’ offense to just two made field goals to lead 23-16 at the end of the first period.
A half-asleep and step-slow La Salle five was seemingly satisfied with keeping in step with their Katipunan counterparts in the next 10 minutes. Whatever spark Jeron and rookie Aljun Melecio tried to ignite for the Green and White was negated by Blue Eagle Aaron Black’s quick attacks in the shaded lane and Anton Asistio’s hot shooting.
Whatever message DLSU coach Aldin Ayo delivered at the dugout during intermission was received well and clear as the boys opened the third canto with a 7-2 run, highlighted by a Ben Mbala slam, to trim AdMU’s lead to 46-43. It was unfortunately, La Salle’s last great moment as the offense stagnated for almost five minutes, allowing the Blue Eagles to once again establish double-digit leads.
From being down 50-61 at the end of the third, the misery for the league leaders continued as bad habits and selfish play tried, all in vain, to keep the 12-game winning steak alive. The Blue Eagles’ lead went up as high as 18, 58-76, after back-to-back conversions by Black, and it was clear that the afternoon belonged to the blue side of Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Finally we can end the debate whether a loss is actually good for the Green Archers’ psyche, or if the possibility of an outright finals berth is to too good an incentive not to pursue. Judging by the rust and lack of proper execution by DLSU after not playing since October 26 against UE, the shorter rest provided by a proper Final Four format should play to La Salle’s advantage.
Season 79 may be a long, long time from when I witnessed La Salle go 13-0 in 2002 then lose the final elimination game to Ateneo, (And eventually lose in the finals in 3 games), but I personally feel that a loss would help rather than hurt these Green Archers. The first and last team to post a 14-0 record in the Final Four era, the UE Red Warriors in 2007, did not exactly do well in the Finals, losing to DLSU in a two-game sweep.
With the pressure of sweeping the second round off their shoulders, a desire to a avenge from a poor showing, and with the Final Four just around the corner, except the Green Archers to be better, sharper, and wiser from hereon out.
This Kib’s got game
Montalbo, despite blowing a couple of fast-break layup attempts, was a force to be reckon with at the defensive end. Picking the pockets of Ateneo’s backcourt with nine steals, the Bacolod-native’s hustle and effort was, at times, the only positive thing going for the Green Archers. Aside from his almost double-digit tally in steals, Kib was also grabbed two rebounds, issued three assists, and was a perfect 4/4 from the line.
It maybe too late into the season for coach Ayo to thinker with his rotation, but with the Archers’ next game against the FEU Tamaraws being a virtual no-bearing game on our Final Four standings, inserting Montalbo for either starters Torres (three points, 1/7 from the field, six rebounds, two assists) or Caracut (six points, 2/5 shooting) may give dividends come playoff time.
The Green Archers close out their elimination round assignment against FEU on November 12, Saturday, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Animo La Salle!