First, the bad news: It has been reported that Taane Samuel will miss a large part of the elimination round because of a stress fracture injury in his left foot. We shall know soon as to how long exactly he will be sidelined.
Shorthanded further, the Green Archers can no longer afford to have multiple bigs on the floor at once. Expect Justine Baltazar and Brandon Bates to rotate in the middle with Santi Santillan getting extensive minutes at the 4-spot. That leaves a lot of empty wing minutes to be filled by either Mark Dyke, Gabe Capacio, Joaqui Manuel or Migs Corteza. Samuel’s absence will definitely create a huge void on both ends of the floor.
Then there’s the good news. The season is just a week old which gives the Green Archers the opportunity to make the needed adjustments moving forward. We have to hand it to them, they still managed to give FEU a tough fight. Even without Samuel, they were still in a good position to win if not for some big shots made by the Tamaraws late in the contest. Of course, an in-game injury to any key play will surely impact any preparation they had heading into that game but La Salle showed that they have what it takes to thrive under those circumstances.
The Green Archers look to bounce back tomorrow and get their first win of the season against a young and talented NU squad. The Bulldogs won their season opener against UST 75-70. After not making it to the Final 4 for the second straight year, this team has reloaded, adding Dave and Shaun Ildefonso from Ateneo, John Lloyd Clemente from their high school program and 6’7 Troy Rike, a one-and-done graduate student who played 4 years for Wake Forrest in the US. They join the core group of Dave Yu, Matthew Aquino, Enzo Joson, Rev Diputado and Issa Gaye.
NU may have only one significant loss from last year in Jayjay Alejandro but his veteran leadership and clutch play will be hard to replace. His absence was in a way felt in their first game especially when UST rallied from a 17-point deficit and almost pulled off an upset. The result would have probably been different in a close match.
One thing going for the Green Archers is their experience. They have been in a lot of tough battles in the past and they certainly know what it takes to win. The Bulldogs may look solid on paper, but the fact is that they are still practically a newly-assembled group which makes them very much vulnerable.
With Samuel out for an indefenite time, many supporters appear to have given up all hopes for La Salle to at least advance to the semis. Contrary to what others may think, this season is not lost. Well not yet.
If the Green Archers are to remain competitive, Coach Louie Gonzalez is going to need to tap every ounce of talent remaining at his disposal. They also need to address the lingering issues in their game such as cold shooting from the outside and perimeter defense. With a depleted frontline, expect the team to go small. The guards really need to step up as the team’s success will depend heavily on how well and efficient they execute.
They were billed as underdogs this season and I think that it is high time that they start to fully embrace that label when they take the floor tomorrow. The team would need to have everyone onboard to keep going.
Aside from the regulars, it will be interesting to see who else will rise to the challenge.