Turning point of the season

I would like to put that title for this article simply because I personally feel that a Green Archer victory on Sunday may do wonders for this season for the green and white.

Not only that it is a rivalry game, not being sounding pro-Ateneo, admit it, the Blue Eagles are the barometer of all teams this season in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament. As the cliché goes: “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.” Now, Ateneo has shown that they are the number one team out there and if you want to go places this season, you must beat the defending champions.

Statistical-wise, both teams fare pretty much the same. The difference maker only being the points allowed category wherein Ateneo ranks first, giving only 61.8 points per game to their opponents while the Green Archers, which rank number two on that statistical category, is giving up 68.6 points per game to their opponents.

On other statistical categories, it is tough to differentiate the two teams. Personally, I like it because you have this perception of staying toe-to-toe with the number one team on the field. Standing-wise, this game is important to both teams as Ateneo is looking to lock that one of two twice to beat incentives going into the Final Four.

For La Salle, on the other hand, they are trying to be in the hunt for that twice to beat advantage. La Salle is trying to control what they can control and hope that other results will be favorable on their way to have at least a playoff for that twice to beat advantage heading into the Final Four.

Other La Sallians that I have spoken with after Wednesday’s win over NU are relatively contented getting into the Final Four but at this point, I am also happy if the team takes care of its business on its last two games, and then probably get a shot with Adamson for that other twice to beat advantage, depending on how Adamson will perform on their remaining elimination round games.

So, going into this game on Sunday against Ateneo, on the front court, Baltazar, Santillan, and Bates will have their full work ahead of them trying to contain Angelo Kouame, especially on the glass. But as what we have seen on Ateneo’s last game against Adamson, they can also win big time even if Kouame does not contribute that much. But for me, it will be huge if Baltazar and Santillan will have their offensive games going.

I expect Isaac Go and Angelo Kouame to cover Baltazar, so I hope Balti will be able to get his offensive game going to put pressure on those two legit Ateneo pivots. Santi will be defended by an Ateneo stretch four so just like what Santi did against NU, I hope Santi will be able to muster his will at the low block against these Ateneo stretch fours and make them work on defense.

On stopping Ateneo, huge key will be stopping their dribble-drive penetration which fuels their offense. One concern that I have is La Salle has been known for giving away perimeter shots. Ateneo’s been milking the perimeter very well so it will be interesting to see how Coach Louie Gonzalez will adjust his defensive schemes to prevent Ateneo from playing their normal game of averaging 33 perimeter points per game.

But make no mistake about it. Ateneo also has the players that can finish one-on-one attacks, so the guard and wing on-ball pressure will also be important on this game. One important aspect is to make Ateneo’s guards and forwards make tough shots as they penetrate inside the paint and another important aspect is securing that rebound, which is going to be another battle.

The Green Archers cannot give multiple chances to Ateneo on the offensive end. Most of the time, that second chance offensive opportunity is dealing with a scrambling defense which gives a higher percentage for the offensive team to take advantage or in other words, giving Ateneo second chance opportunities on offense will be dangerous as most probably it will result to open baskets due to La Salle scrambling for defense after failing to secure that all-important defensive rebound.

Aljun, Balti, and Santi will be marked men on Sunday, so I am hoping that Andrei, Encho, and even Joaqui could help on the scoring chores to relieve the offensive pressure from those first three guys that I have mentioned. Joaqui Manuel has been getting good looks all season long and what a way to finally convert those chances come Sunday. I hope that dagger three against NU last Wednesday will help Joaqui’s confidence to make defenses pay come Sunday.

I don’t want to pinpoint any single player in Ateneo that needs to be given emphasis on defense. The reason which is just like what I have mentioned earlier, their offensive flow is system-based. This is where the defensive strategies and schemes will come in during the preparation phase. To simply put it, everyone in Ateneo’s line up probably has the license to take threes. What will be important is not to give them any clean looks as an Ateneo trey looks like a slam dunk to them which fuels everyone.

Overall, just like in the first-round encounter, La Salle needs to solve their offensive woes to win this game on Sunday against Ateneo. Defensively, I think La Salle is doing okay but for sure Ateneo will make their own adjustments as well come Sunday, so the Green Archers will have to prepare for them as well. But more importantly, I want to see how La Salle will try and break down this Ateneo defense because in basketball, I also believe that an offense can also serve as the best defense putting pressure on the opposing team.

Lastly, I think beating Ateneo will give La Salle a much-needed confidence boost facing UP on Wednesday (which is an all-important game as well for both teams) and most probably how the Green Archers will perform in the playoffs. Winning over Ateneo will not just help La Salle in the standings and positioning for the Final Four. But more importantly, it will help La Salle mentally big time heading into the deep waters of the season, which is the most crucial time for a contending team to perform at its very best.