I’m sure that most of the Lasallian community slept last night and woke up today with big smiles on their faces. The promise of a dream season has become a reality as the Green Archers fulfilled not only the pre-season hype and expectations but also brought back the UAAP men’s basketball crown back to Taft Avenue with Game Two’s 79-72 win.
Despite looking formidable from the starting five down to the last player on the bench and lording over the opposition during the elimination round with an average winning margin of 17.2 points, the playoffs have showed a more mortal, albeit human side to the Season 79 champions. Despite the 69-64 win over the Adamson Soaring Falcons, the team’s mistakes and errors were highlighted as much as their accomplishment of entering the men’s basketball finals.
Game 1 of the finals against Ateneo had a perfect start but had the Green and White gallery at the edge of their seats for the next three quarters. The late-game heroics of one Jeron Teng – the go-ahead layup with 15.1 seconds remaining and key block on Ateneo’s Aaron Black – needed an encore in Game Two; a type of performance not that only cements the now two-time Finals MVP into the annals of DLSU history but also into the hearts and consciousness of La Salle fans forever.
With Jeron firing and hitting (9/14) from almost everywhere in the first half to the tune of 19 points, the Blue Eagles never got the better start (from Game 1) that they wanted as La Salle was ahead at intermission, 45-35. While the officiating was spotty for the second game in a row, the Green Archers survived the 14 fouls called (of 25 total) in the last two quarters while fending off every Ateneo rally.
While Mythical Five member Jeron finished his last UAAP game with 28 points on 12/20 shooting, with three rebounds, two assists, and one steal and Season 79 MVP Ben Mbala tallied a double-double performance of 18 points and 10 rebounds, other members of the team also stepped-up when the crucial moments demanded their very best.
Kib Montalbo’s timely snipping (3/5 from the arc, nine points) kept the Ateneo defense honest and gave JT and Ben space to operate on offense while Season 79 Rookie of the Year Aljun Melecio’s highlight left-handed, fast-break layup off Ateneo’s Thirdy Ravena at the 6:46 mark of the fourth was as amazing as it was mesmerizing.
In the latter stages of Game Two, poise, composure, and the Archers’ will to win were the difference between the two rival squads.
With Ateneo still threatening to steal Game Two, trailing by four, 69-73, with 1:13 to go in the final frame, Jeron drove to the lane and attract three defenders but unlike in the past where he would either try to score or fish for a foul, he uncharacteristically dished the ball to Big Ben at the last minute; the basket gave La Salle a more comfortable 75-69 edge that they would nurse until the final buzzer.
With a 16-1 win-loss record, it is a fitting end to the best Green Archers season in the school’s 30-year stint in the UAAP. The lone loss of course came against the same Ateneo team, 71-83, at the same venue, the Smart Araneta Coliseum last November 5. The defeat, however humbling, released a little bit of pressure of having a perfect 17-0 season but kudos to DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo and his staff for soaking all the pressures and expectations that came their way.
The back-to-back NCAA and UAAP champion coach did it his way – with relentless mayhem defense – while maximizing the talents of the 15 players wearing the La Salle jersey. Despite having big shoes to fill with the graduation of Jeron, you have to admire and be inspired by Ayo’s bold statement of the team repeating next year.
Worrying about who will fill the spots that will be left behind by the departure of JT, Thomas Torres, Jason Perkins, and Julian Sargent, as well as the chances of the seven other UAAP teams in Season 80 should be the farthest thing that the team should be thinking at present. Right now, we have a UAAP championship to celebrate!
Animo La Salle!