DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo refused to congratulate his team, called the game “horrible”, and even had to be consoled by his coaching staff, while the Green and White gallery looked more relieved than jubilant; despite punching the first finals ticket in Season 79 and the final score stating La Salle 69, Adamson 64, why does it feel like the Green Archers lost, rather than won, yesterday’s Final Four game against the Soaring Falcons?
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: 1/14 from three-point land, the lone conversion coming from Kib Montalbo during the second period for a 30-28 lead; three assists against 26 glaring turnovers, which the Falcons feasted on their way to 18 turnover points; and only 10 points from the bench, a far cry from DLSU’s 37.6 season average.
La Salle’s 45-34 rebounding edge is also misleading, especially after Adamson, trailing in the last two minutes of the game, 64-67, got three offensive rebounds and several chances to tie the game. Despite DLSU’s edge in height and talent, there were questions about the team’s basic fundamentals on offense and defense, proper execution of plays, and even desire to win.
There were also several instances where the Soaring Falcons capitalized on La Salle’s ultra-aggressiveness and switching schemes; tendencies and facets of the game that the Adamson coaching staff, and the most probably FEU and Ateneo personnel, have already scouted and even devised counter measures.
Justified or not, there is a certain level of expectation on the team especially after finishing the elimination round with a 13-1 win-loss record, our best finish since 2002. The playoffs however, are a different kind of animal; a type of beast that Ayo, Season 79 MVP Ben Mbala, and most of the players on the roster are experiencing for the first time.
It’s in the Final Four and the finals where we separate the men from the boys, where legends and legacies are made, and where UAAP basketball history is written. We might have pleaded team captain Jeron Teng to pass the ball more all season long, but in the crucial moments of the Adamson game, there was no other player we wanted to take and make the winning shots.
Scoring 11 of his total 25 points in the final period, including the last seven points primary off isolation plays, there is a sense of urgency from JT that not everyone from the Green Archers bench can understand, let alone match. Knowing the end of his UAAP career is within sight, every game, every quarter, every minute, and every possession is something the 2013 Finals MVP does not take for granted.
Efficient from the field (10/18) and immaculate from the line (5/5), its these types of performances that make us grateful that no. 21 plays with the words “La Salle” across his chest. Ben was the only other Green Archer to finish in double digits with 21 points, to go along with 16 rebounds, a steal, and four blocks.
Despite La Salle’s inconsistent and lackluster play, better field shooting (24/54 for 44.4% vs. Adamson’s 23/72, 31.9%), a solid 20/29 outing from the charity stripe, and limiting Season 79 top rookie Jerrick Ahanmisi to nine points, after averaging 24.5 against DLSU in the eliminations, are things that the team can build on.
From being an unpredictable and surprising team with a lot of aces up in their sleeves, now is the worst time for the Green Archers to be predictable. With 10 days until the finals start on December 3, there is enough time to device decoys, variations, and wrinkles on our plays. The next week-and-a-half will not only be a chance to sharpen their X’s and O’s, but also an opportunity for the boys to toughen their mental fortitude.
There is talent, depth, and skill in this team. But for La Salle to capture its 9th men’s basketball championship, the team needs a bit of luck, big fighting hearts, a whole lot of Animo to grab hold of the trophy that neither Ateneo or FEU will easily hand over on a silver plate.
Animo La Salle!