Green Archers are slowly but surely finding their championship form

I have to admit that my colleague Vic Hapin’s DLSU-UST primer was so convincing that I was really worried about the Growling Tigers’ threat against the defending champions. After all, a wounded (and winless) team is the most dangerous to face especially when backed into a corner and in desperation mode.

After coming off an 87-98 loss to the UP Fighting Maroons last week and having six days to prepare physically and mentally, posting a huge 115-86 victory against the now 0-6 Growling Tigers was just what the team needed to continue its Season 80 campaign. There was a flow and rhythm on both ends of the Smart Araneta Coliseum floor as well as bounce in the players’ legs; while 12 of the 13 available players scored at least a basket each.

Unlike their two previous games, it wasn’t a Ben Mbala showcase in opening 10 minutes of the game. Back-to-back three point conversions by rookie Santi Santillan opened the first quarter fireworks, while fellow greenhorn Ramil Tero’s Rajon Rondo-esque fastbreak layup gave DLSU a 17-7 lead at the 5:43 mark. Jollo Go’s basket off a steal, followed by a three-point basket off good ball movement a minute later gave the Green Archers a 30-19 edge.

Ben decided to flex his muscles in the next period, scoring off free throws, and-one plays, and even a thunderous dunk at the 7:53 mark to tally 12 of his total 29 points during the second frame. With sophomore Aljun Melecio out due to illness, fellow starting backcourt mate Andrei Caracut gladly stepped into the former’s shoes, scoring nine points in the second quarter to ably support Mbala’s production.

After posting twin 30-21 periods, La Salle was comfortably ahead 60-42 by intermission. UST could only close the gap to 13, 69-56, after a Jeepy Faundo putback at the 5:11 mark before DLSU would go on a 7-0 run to quickly snuff out any ideas of an upset. Prince Rivero’s layup from a baseball pass from Abu Tratter not only gave the former NCAA Juniors MVP nine 3rd quarter points but also closed the period, 85-63, in favor of the Green and White.

Only two questions remained heading into the final period of the match: how large will the final margin be and will high-flying guard Ricci Rivero be inserted into the game. Mbala’s layup with 5:10 to go put La Salle at the brink of the century mark, 99-78 and not long after, head coach Aldin Ayo finally inserted the younger Rivero to finish the game.

With no reports indicating that Ricci was injured or unavailable, the sophomore’s almost DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision) status was puzzling as he was quick to put up seven points in five minutes from a variety of highlight drives to the basket. Rivero’s euro-step with less than a minute to go once again put La Salle’s offense in the history books: most points scored since 2003, a feat the team first accomplished against NU earlier this season.

The defense was also back after letting UP star guard Paul Desiderio explode for 30 points and allowing the Fighting Maroons to hit 16/35 from rainbow country. Mayhem defense was particularly sharp on Faundo and guard Marvin Lee who combined for only 16 points, limited UST’s outside shooting to just 2/14, and forced 35 turnovers.

Four players finished in double-digits led by Ben’s 29, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks. Together with Caracut’s 14 points and Santillan’s 13, the trio combined to score 56 of the 66 total starter’s production while Prince’s 11 led a 49-point effort by the DLSU bench.

With a deep and loaded bench, look for Ayo to give the team’s younger players more playing in the future; allowing them to find rhythm and confidence during actual UAAP games and not overextending the main players of the team.

The Green Archers face another winless team, the UE Red Warriors, on October 4 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum before closing their first round campaign against the 6-0 Ateneo Blue Eagles on October 8.

Animo La Salle!