La Salle is still learning to play together

After 4 games, we have a 3-1 record. Not bad, considering that this is essentially a new team, and that four out of the 5 starters in today’s game had not played on the Archers team before this season. Only Balti was a holdover among the first 5. 

Before the season, many were wondering if a rebuilding Green Archer team could make the playoffs. Sure, we had Coach Derek back, but with only 6 holdovers from previous editions: Baltazar, Lojera, Escandor, Lim, Cu, Manuel out of the potential 20-man list, how competitive could this team be?

The talent is there, but good as he is, Derek isn’t a magician. It takes time together for a team to become really familiar with each other and with the system Derek has devised. Experience together is a key binding ingredient that takes time. 

Building teamwork is like a slow cooked dish. The process can’t be rushed. Think of instant noodles you can buy at the neighborhood store – just add hot water, wait 3 minutes, and you have a meal. But if you want a pot roast, that’ll take a bit of time to marinate, cook, before serving, and will take hours to get it right from the start. Not like instant noodles at all.

The Archers got away with talent and potential in the first 3 games. 

Importless UE couldn’t live up to their monicker, but gave us a fight before falling – the margin was only 5 points. We got by NU in another close game, with a winning margin of 4. Close games, against unfancied teams. We were supposed to beat them easily, at least on paper, so no surprises there.

Our third game, this time against FEU, was a pleasant surprise. FEU had been tipped as a strong team, bannered by heralded rookie Abarrientos, and fielding a tall import. The Tams would be difficult to out-muscle.

For three quarters, the Green Archers competed on even terms, before leaning on dominating the 4th quarter to win comfortably by 10, 75-65. It was a feel good win, with the hint of the players coming together as a team. Veterans Baltazar and Lojera showed the newcomers how to deliver in the clutch, as they provided the separation in the closing minutes. Balti logged a double-double, his third in as many games, while Lojera tossed in 10 to go with his all-court smarts.

Former UAAP Rookie-of-the-Year Nonoy electrified the team with his contributions from long range, going 5 out of 8 from beyond the arc. He even hit one from Steph Curry range, launching one from inside the MOA Arena logo just past half court. 

Michael Phillips provide the energy and hustle in the paint, pulling down 16 boards, and more importantly, effectively neutralizing FEU import Ojoula in the 2nd half. Abarrientos was also shackled by the Archer defense, and was limited to 9 points after averaging in double figures in their past games. 

The win tied DLSU at the top with Ateneo at 3-0, and raised hopes that an upset could be had in the 4th game. 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as the vastly more experienced defending champions took the measure of the Green Archers in the second half to cost to a relatively comfortable 74-57 victory to stay unbeaten. La Salle fell into a tie with UP for second at 3-1.

The Archers competed on even terms for two quarters, staying close behind stretches of sterling defense but lapsing into intermittent miscues on both ends, but it was close. In the third quarter, the full court pressure of Ateneo started to take its toll, resulting in several Archer backcourt errors, particularly off baseline inbound passes after an Ateneo score. The turnovers allowed the Blue Eagles to score in bunches and create separation, and the Green Archers never recovered.

Ateneo packed the paint, daring the Archers to hit from outside, and the ploy worked as the Taft team only made 5/24 from beyond the arc. Balti was smothered whenever he attempted to work his way close to the basket, and without any other offensive threats from his teammates to draw the defenders from him, could only contribute 2 baskets out of 10 attempts. Nonoy was unable to recapture his touch from outside, hit only 2/8 from outside. Winston missed all 5 of his treys, and was likewise limited to just 6 points.

Michael Phillips was literally everywhere in the first half, blocked 3 shots, but seemed to run out of gas in the second half; he nonetheless finished with 13 points to lead the Archers’ scoring.

What wasn’t quite right

The Archers showed their inexperience as a team in their first game against the defending champs who had been playing together for a while now.  The core of the Blue Eagles were part of the Gilas cadet team that trained for international competitions even during the lockdown, and it showed in their teamwork on both ends. 

The unfamiliarity of the Archers with each other was particularly apparent in the inbounding from the baseline, where passes were intercepted or deflected, resulting in turnovers leading to scores. We coughed up the ball 16 times, which the Blue Eagles successfully capitalized on by scoring 15 points. We forced Ateneo into 17 turnovers, but scored only 5 points. Huge difference right there.

Several times, a Blue Eagle would get by his defender and make his way to an uncontested layup. No secondary cover, no rim protection yet.

The uncontested field goal statistic is indicative of the breakdown in the Archer defense – Ateneo had 23 uncontested field goals, while La Salle only had 5. That clearly points to cohesion on defense.

The Green Archers seemed to want the win too much; either that or they were just too nervous, because they never really got settled down when confronted with adversity. The team would play frenetic defense, hold Ateneo down for stretches, then commit a mistake or two, which would lead to a Blue Eagle conversion, and consecutive occurrences tended to sap the energy from the green team. 

What’s positive

The same stretches which effectively held the Blue Eagles down were a good indication of the potential of the greenies. During those minutes, the Green Archers played on the same level as their opponents, but couldn’t sustain that intensity for extended periods of time. 

Our team is composed of a bunch of talented individuals who have yet to really mesh as a united team. The teamwork is still a work-in-progress on both ends, but we’re seeing more and more of the good stuff. There are gaps though, and that’s where the team has been vulnerable. 

It probably happens when substitutions are made, you have different combinations on the floor, who haven’t really played too much in actual games together. Come to think of it, the team really hasn’t had much experience together except in practice. Scrimmages and tune-up games can never simulate the actual experience against a UAAP team. 

Yesterday’s loss was expected, even if we had fervently hoped for a different outcome. Long shots do occasionally come in, but yesterday was not one of them. 

They’re getting there, just give them a few more games with Derek to learn from the first experience with Ateneo. How they bounce back will be a good indication of how far they can go. And from where we sit, it will be quite an interesting journey which will probably have a good result in time.