Plenty of positives (and negatives) for DLSU despite opening game loss

After taking a 56-55 lead at the 4:59 mark of the fourth quarter, the De La Salle Green Archers simply ran out of gas against a veteran-laden FEU Tamaraws squad and lost their Season 81 opener, 61-68, Sunday noon at the Mall of Asia Arena.

After Santi Santillan banked a three-pointer at the top of the key for that one-point lead, last year’s finalist could not get the stops and breaks at the crucial moments; even committing a 24-second violation and key turnovers that did not help DLSU’s cause.

Third-year guard Aljun Melecio was a marked man and it showed in his final three-point tally, going 1 for 7. His lone convention, made with only 0:04 seconds remaining and FEU comfortably ahead 66-58, proved a little too late to salvage the win.

Despite losing the game and possibly missing rookie big man Taane Samuel for the rest of Season 81, there are some positive things that the team can capitalize and key mistakes that can be used as lessons for here on out:

A more disciplined kind of Mayhem defense
While former coach Aldin Ayo is credited as the face behind La Salle’s ultra-aggressive defense these past two years, first-year coach Louie Gonzales is actually the architect behind the system that gave the Green Archers the title in 2016 and a finals appearance last year.

Indeed, during Sunday’s game, the DLSU defense, especially in the first two quarters when they held FEU to 11 and 14 points, respectively, was a spectacle to watch. There was a more concerted effort in the part of the players not to switch (and thereby causing mismatches) compared to La Salle teams in the past two years.

While defending the pick-and-roll and ball screens up top was solid, La Salle’s defense was caught napping on FEU’s shooters especially at the short corner three-point area. The Tamaraws, who lost to Ateneo in the Final Four last year, shot a respectable 9/33 for beyond the arc, with most of their attempts being open ones from the corner.

That is a plus-12 (La Salle went 5/24) for FEU and something that must be addressed by the team for their game against Adamson and sharp-shooting Jerrick Ahanmisi next Saturday.

More patience in executing plays
Even with his team on the cusp of losing, coach Louie called a timeout with less than 10 seconds remaining to draw up a play. Executed to perfection; Melecio converted an open-look trifecta with four seconds remaining off a pass from Santillan that trimmed a 58-66 deficit to just five.

While the basket may not have made a difference in the final result, the moment provided a learning opportunity for the whole team. Being able to execute a play, at crunch time, may prove beneficial to a team that is made up of six rookies, seven holdovers, and lost two of their leading scorers from last season.

Less turnovers, more rebounds, cold 3-pt shooting
It is a positive sign to see the team committing less turnovers compared to the past two years while still managing to out-rebound their Morayta counterpart (49-42) but the shooting from our crack lineup of guards: Melecio, Andrei Caracut, team captain Kib Montalbo, and Jollo Go (combined 2/13) must improve if the team wants to reach its modest goal of making it to the Final Four.

Santi and Justine Baltazar had a fine showing; combining for 27 points, 19 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks but other players need to step up in the coming games. La Salle’s margin of error is smaller now in the post-Ben Mbala era while expectations from a rabid fan based still remain sky-high.

With a 13-man opening game roster now trimmed to 12 with Samuel’s foot-related injury, it’s next man up for the Green Archers. With six days to rest and prepare for their match-up against the Soaring Falcons at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the team should be a little sharper and better when they face an Adamson squad that just beaten tournament-favorites Ateneo also last Sunday.

Animo La Salle!