Picture this: If Kobe Paras had sank only 75% of his free throws UP would not have been in the position to win the game. If La Salle on the other hand had made even just 70% of our free throws there would not even be an end-game situation where we could lose. UP made the free throw line their friend and La Salle didn’t.
This has been a long time problem for the Green Archers that we have decided to just live with it. We ignore it because we can win championships with a 65-68% FT shooting clip. We are noticing it now because winnable games like this just escaped us. We outplayed last year’s runners-up on both ends of the floor, no question. For 96% of the time we had the lead. We made defensive stops – blocked shots after block shot on Akuetie, forced Rivero to commit turned overs, Bartlett made steals and converted them to easy layups. But somehow UP still found ways to get back in the game. How? The answer is end-game poise and free throws. Kobe shot 92% on the foul line (13 of 14) and that is not normal in the UAAP. Both he and Bright Akuetie shot 6 for 6 combined in the last two minutes. On the other side Joaqui shot 2 for 2, Balti shot 0 for 2, Malonzo 0 for 2 and Andre 1 for 2 for a total of 3 of 8. In Math terms, the + 6 of UP with a -5 from La Salle is like giving UP a +11 total in the end-game.
On the bright side, the Green Archers that played out there was terrific. They seem to have addressed a lot of the major issues: improved team play, the guys looked much more comfortable and have better awareness of their roles, their game plan was very well executed, and their player rotation just outstanding! Everyone who was fielded in contributed one way or another.
Apart from that, undoubtedly we have the talent at every position to compete this season. We got veterans who can take over games. We have a Gilas-bound player who can dominate the boards and score at will. We have a high flying forward who can knock down threes and give us highlight-reel dunks. We have the Ninja 2.0 slasher in Serrano. We got very good defenders in Lojera, Bartlett, and Cu, a good shot blocker in Bates, and high IQ all around contributors like Manuel. Our bench is starting to live up to their potential and contributed in double digits for the first time this game
So now that we got these more important matters settled, we can now focus on the little things. For me, improved free throw shooting along with end-game smarts (e. g. getting to the foul line, playing well in the end game) is what will separate the very good teams from the contenders. Ateneo has made a living with this for a long time. Buenafe, Kiefer, Tiu, even his brother Thirdy. If you graze the hair on Keifer’s forearm you’ll see his arms instantly flail to call the ref’s attention. They all just find ways to get to the foul line whenever their team is struggling to get a field goal. I will also add Akuetie in this list. Last year, Papi was jogging back to his front court Bright dribbled past him and hooked his arm underneath and started flailing to get the foul. But in Kobe Paras’s case he earned his foul line trips for being aggressive inside the paint deservedly.
We are very much still in the race but we can turn this defeat into a valuable lesson and not take the free throws for granted. Now that we are more aware of our skills individually and as a team to compete with the best of the UAAP, it is now time to hone the little things that will get us to the next level.