After 9 games, we have an interesting snip of where the Green Archers are now. They started the tournament playing inconsistently, and ended the first round with a 5-2 card. Those first 7 games were supposed to be learning sessions, where all that practice gets applied.
With two games played in the second round, let’s take a slightly micro view of the previous eight quarters of the second round so far.
4 quarters won, 3 quarters lost, 1 tied. Doesn’t say much.
In the first game against Ateneo, we won 1 quarter, lost 2 quarters, and tied in one. In the second game, against UST, we won 3 and lost 1. So we won 4 quarters, lost 3, and tied one. Yet the results of the two games were wildly different.
Against Ateneo, we narrowly lost the first, 18-21, tied the second at 14-all to stay close with the possibility of a competitive game. Then the 3rd happened, they made a run, we blinked, and in the space of that 10 minutes we were out of the game. The last quarter, the Archers made a mini-run, Ateneo relaxed, and we outscored them by 6, 21-15, but it was a case of too little, too late, and the damage had been done in the 3rd. Just like in the first round.
So, is the 3rd quarter the Archers’ weakness?
There was a week’s break in observance of Holy Week.
The Green Archers must have used this hiatus to gain a different perspective, reflect on their game, and come up with a collective resolution to do better, individually and as a team.
We can conclude this because of the next 4 quarters they played.
It was 3-1 in terms of won-lost quarters, but it’s instructive to look at how the quarters transpired. And that gives us a glimpse of what could be once they get their act together.
The 4 quarters against Ateneo
The Green Archers held their own in the first half of their game against the Blue Eagles, and this was evident in the first half stats: we outrebounded them 23-19, took roughly the same no. of shots but made less 11/33 vs 13/23, made more free throws 7/9 vs 5/7, had more steals 5-3, lost the assists (6-7) and turnover stats (9-8) but not by much. It was close.
Then the inevitable 3rd period happened. Again, if you look at the stats, it should not have been a disastrous period. The Archers kept it close until the 7:53 mark with the score tied at 36-all.
A Verano layup gave Ateneo a 2-point margin. A turnover and the Manuel flagrant foul made it 39-36, but Nelle scored on a layup to make it a closer game. A blue triple off a turnover widened the gap, 42-38, the Archers missed on consecutive possessions, Ateneo scored, Archers turned it over, leading to a triple by Andrade, another miss, answered by a Belangel triple, and all of a sudden it’s a 38-50 deficit.
The Archers missed again, followed by another Belangel trey before Lojera finally broke the silence, 40-53. Still clearly rattled, the Archers missed their next 4 shots which the Eagles converted on, 40-57. The Greenies managed to outscore their opponents, 7-3 for the remainder of the 3rd, which ended 47-60, but by then the Blue Eagles were confident, comfortable, and able to just play their game.
The 4th was anti-climactic, Ateneo brought the lead up to 16 before a last Green Archer push made the scoreline a bit more respectable at 68-75.
In hindsight, that 4-5 minutes in the 3rd quarter, from 8:02 to 3:40, was the crucial period during which we lost the game. The only indicator that the game got away from us is the shooting stats – we couldn’t make shots (6/19 fgs, 5/14 on 2pointers, 1/5 on 3s, 2/5 on fts) vs the Blues (8/14 total fgs, 4/8 on 2pointers, 4/6 on 3s). Turnovers were even, 6-6, but we were outrebounded 10-12 (maybe because we had more misses that they pulled down as defensive boards), but we even had more steals, 5-2. It shouldn’t have been a blowout quarter.
But a key component of making shots is the confidence of the player that every time he takes a shot, it will go in, forget how many misses he had before. For a shooter, the next shot he takes will go in. But for some reason, our players began to doubt themselves, and it showed in the misses. We didn’t turn the ball over so much, but when we got rattled, and the belief in our shot making deserted the players. At least in that quarter. All the while, the Blue Eagles were confidently taking and making their 3s.
We lost that game because of the mental side of basketball.
The 4 quarters against UST
What a difference a week makes.
Probably smarting from the disastrous 3rd quarter in the previous game, the Green Archers came out breathing fire and took out their ire on the hapless UST Tigers.
The only time the game was close was in the opening minute, where Winston’s 2point jumper was answered by a layup by Fontanilla.
It was all La Salle from there, as the Green Archers sprinted to a 17-8 lead after 5 minutes. The Archer pressure defense was in full view in the opening 10 minutes, forcing 7 UST turnovers while the green-and-white offense was, how do you put it, other-worldly. Field goal shooting from inside the arc was an unheard-of 92% on 12/13 accuracy, while hitting 3/6 from 3point land.
A key tenet of winning basketball is preventing the opponents from scoring, and UST could do nothing to stop the avalanche of Taft points in those first 10 minutes which ended 36-21. Balti led the scoring parade with 13, followed by Shonny Winston with 12. In total, DLSU shot a fantastic 15/19 from the field, far better than their 3/6 clip from the foul line.
To their credit, the Tigers recovered their wits in the 2nd, and tried to make a game of it. They came out more aggressive, fought on even terms, upped their shooting from the arc (3/7), and even scored more on 2nd chance points, 6-2. The Archers still shot at a very good clip, 8/14 (57%) but missed their 2 tries from afar. UST took the quarter by 3, 25-22 to cut the lead a bit at the half, 58-46.
Winston was a bit passive in this quarter, attempting only once and scoring only on two free throws, the same output as Balti. Michael Phillips took up the scoring slack with 12 points on 6/7 from the field.
Would the Archers’ 3rd quarter malaise strike again?
Not if Winston could help it. And he almost singlehandedly took matters into his hands, exploding for 19 points to tow the Archers to a 25-point lead after 30 minutes. So superb was Shonny that he missed only 2 out of his 11 field goal attempts in the quarter. He outscored the Tigers all by himself, 19-15, until Coach Derek sat him with a minute left in the quarter. So dominant were the Taft boys that they outrebounded the Tigers, 15-10, forced them into 6 errors, and harassed them into a meager 28% field goal accuracy (5/18).
La Salle coasted to the win in the 4th, with Winston being prevented from scoring by Coach Derek, who opted to rest his star scorer. Evan Nelle took up the slack, hitting all 3 of his triple attempts, ably supported by Galman and Cuajao.
So what do you make of the first two games?
If you’re a pessimist, you’d say that the Green Archers were due for a lucky game, and their performance against UST was just a fluke.
If you’re an optimist and/or a die-hard La Sallian, you’d say that they’re finally getting the hang of the Pumaren system while getting to know each other a lot more.
To which the pessimist would counter “you’re just guessing”.
The best counter to that is to look at the numbers. 25 assists out of 42 made field goals. This wasn’t a bunch of individuals scoring by themselves, they helped each other score.
They had 16 turnovers, still a lot, but not getting worse. If anything, many of those turnovers were made trying to get the ball to a more open teammate. The errors coming from inbound intercepts were gone even as UST tried to pressure the inbounder – they definitely learned from their past mistakes.
Five Archers scored in double digits, led by Winston with 33, Balti with a quiet 17, and Nelle contributed 16 by hitting all his field goals (5/5), Michael Phillips with 15, and Lojera with 10. Six other Archers also scored, and only Lim, Nwankwo, and Turco failed to get the ball through the net.
All of the eligible Archers have now seen action in the tournament. Coach Derek likes to have a shorter rotation of 8-10 in a game, so he’s been parceling out the minutes among the substitutes. But that exposure, no matter how limited, has shown the logic behind his recruitment – everyone has shown a good basketball sense and a fairly good grasp of his own role in the team when on the floor. We don’t see an errant Archer wandering where he shouldn’t be, as they have learned to position themselves properly both on offense and defense.
The defense, in particular, does give us a reason to be optimistic. Against UST, the boys defended well against the pick-and-roll that most teams in the UAAP employ today. They collapse on anyone who comes close to the shaded area, and that can leave shooters open. Against the better teams like Ateneo and UP, that can be risky, because that’s what they really train for, but it’s a reasonable gamble.
If the UST game is any indication, the team is starting to gel, and the next couple of games will probably confirm the progress they’ve made.
It will be interesting.