Dominant and vengeful, the DLSU Green Archers made the most out of their lone visit to the Filoil Arena this Season 80 by manhandling first round tormentor UP Fighting Maroons, 85-62 yesterday. Clicking on all cylinders while putting the clamps on UP’s main gunner Paul Desiderio, the defending champions improved to 7-2 and gave head coach Aldin Ayo the best birthday gift.
The experiment of a tall starting five consisting of Andrei Caracut at point, Ricci Rivero, Santi Santillan, Abu Tratter, and reigning MVP Ben Mbala resulted into La Salle struggling to make a field goal in the fist few minutes of the match and had DLSU trailing early, 4-9. Good thing the bench picked up the slack as consecutive baskets by Ricci Rivero, team captain Kib Montalbo, the returning Aljun Melecio and Jollo Go turned a 13-14 deficit into 24-14 at the end of the first frame.
Another 19-5 run to start the second quarter broke the game wide open in favour of the Green Archers and broke the will of the Fighting Maroons and the hearts of their supporters. Despite giving-up six first-half three-pointers, La Salle was able to limit UP to only three two-point field goals and converted easy baskets through offensive rebounds, second chance points (12) and the fast break (9).
With UP’s big men rotation of Andrew Harris and import Ibrahim Quattara getting into early foul trouble, Mbala had his day in the paint with 20 first half points including a thunderous rim-rattler in the first quarter.
Despite outscoring DLSU 14-18 in the third period courtesy of rookie Jun Manzo’s 13 quarter points, the Fighting Maroons could only cut the deficit to 65-51 at the 8:11 mark of the fourth quarter. With Desiderio already being a marked man and Manzo giving his all during the previous 10 minutes, UP’s lone option was Quattara’s put backs from his teammates’ misses.
Limiting Desiderio to only seven points after the crack guard exploded for a UAAP career-high 30 the last time out was only half the story of yesterday’s win. Limiting UP’s damage from beyond the arc from 16 made shots last September 23 to a more manageable nine yesterday meant better closing out to shooters and tighter perimeter defending from DLSU.
The Green Archers’ 23/30 (76.7%) free throw shooting also improved after going 5/13 against Ateneo and 11/24 in the previous win over FEU. Showing improved confidence through off-hand layups and euro-step highlights, Rivero tallied 20 points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals to ably support Ben’s 27-point, 14-rebound, and three-assist output.
Sophomore Justine Baltazar also made the most out of his playing time by scoring three points, grabbing five rebounds, and swatting away a layup attempt by UP rookie Juan Gomez de Liano.
Balance, lead management, and consistency-wise, yesterday’s win was a good blueprint on how the team should be from here on out. Laser-like focus on the opponent’s main scorer, little to no gambles on defense, and protecting the lead even when it balloons to 15 or more are keys to improved showings and eventually, back-to-back titles.
La Salle takes a much needed six-day break after a gruelling three-game schedule inside eight days; Ayo’s Mayhem system still needs a little tweak especially after welcoming back Season 79 Rookie of the Year Melecio back to the fold after a bout with dengue. Aljun and his fearless outside shooting was badly needed during last week’s lost to Ateneo and is another weapon for Ayo to use either in the starting five or off the bench.
The Green Archers will try for a season sweep of the Adamson Soaring Falcons on October 21 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Animo La Salle!