The start to yesterday’s 80-74 victory over the Adamson Falcon’s was unrecognisable from the Green Archers’ previous nine games. The defending champions usually start out red hot and try to be the more aggressive side but six days in between matches and a few rotation tweaks might have made the boys a bit rusty once the ball went up the air and the game started at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
After trailing for almost all of the first half, La Salle only got its first taste of the lead at the 4:11 mark of the third and was still trailing by one point, 71-72, after Jonathan Espeleta hit two free throws off an unsportsmanlike foul from DLSU team captain Kib Montalbo.
Clutch and timely shooting from Andrei Caracut and man of the match Santi Santillan down the stretch, coupled with breaks of the game favouring the Taft-based squad solidified the Archers’ grip on second place in the team standings at 8-2.
Tinkering with the starting lineup for the nth time, DLSU couldn’t get its bearings early and scored a season-low for any first quarter with 13 points. Despite having seven different players score a basket each, the Green Archers were hounded by committing turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds en route to second chance points.
To counter the unexpected hot-shooting of Adamson’s Espeleta, La Salle feasted and took advantage of the freebies being given to them by going 12/18 before intermission (and 20/29 overall). The Falcon’s meanwhile, could only go 2/6 (4/11 overall). Even without finding a real rhythm during the first half and struggling with their offensive and defensive execution, the Green Archers were still able to tie the game at 35-all after 20 minutes of action.
Adamson, still licking their woulds after losing 73-85 during the first round and being booted out in last year’s Final Four by the Archers, seemed determined to improve their 6-3 win-loss record by standing toe-to-toe and trading heavy blows and haymakers up until the very end.
After Prince Rivero converted an and-one play at the 6:41 mark for a 67-59 lead, Adamson’s backcourt duo of Jerrick Ahanmisi and Robbie Manalang combined to hit three triples sandwiched by a Montalbo lay-up to trim DLSU’s lead to 68-69 with 4:09 to go. After trading baskets, the Falcons last tasted the lead 71-72 after Montalbo fouled AdU rookie Tyrus Hill hard to prevent a fast break attempt.
Relying on both brilliant team and individual play, Ricci Rivero drove to the lane and found a wide-open Caracut for a three-point conversion and go-ahead basket while Santillan drove to the rim with less than a minute to play after finding all of his teammates being tightly guarded.
Head coach Aldin Ayo had to abort his experimental starting five of Aljun Melecio, Caracut, Ben Mbala, Santillan, and Justine Baltazar in favour of a more conventional five staring Ben at the five-slot during the most crucial moments of the game. Incorporating Ben as a wing on both offense and defense is a welcome wrinkle to Ayo’s Mayhem system; albeit something that is still a work in progress.
The younger Rivero paced the Archers with 17 points and four rebounds while Santillan scored a UAAP career-high 16 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists. Reigning UAAP MVP Ben Mbala’s 15-point, 17-rebound, and five-block output almost cancelled out the 17 and 12 put up by AdU import Papi Sarr.
The UE Red Warriors are next on the Green Archers’ crosshairs on October 25 at the Mall of Asia Arena. It will be interesting how La Salle defends UE’s Alvin Pasaol after the King Warrior lit up the Araneta Coliseum with 49 points and almost single-handedly willed his team during a 100-106 loss in the first round. /SFCA
Animo La Salle!