La Salle looks to overcome the odds in Final 4 return

Finally. The Green Archers are in the Final 4, after a few years.

The still new-look Taft Team finished the elimination rounds comfortably in 3rd place with a 9-5 record, behind Ateneo (13-1) and UP (12-2), and ahead of FEU (7-7). To get here, they split their games with  FEU, and swept Adamson, NU, UST, and UE but dropped both games to Ateneo and UP.

Not bad for a team that only practiced together for the first time only a couple of months before the start of the tournament.

Yesterday’s upset win by UP over Ateneo ensured that the traditional final 4 format would be followed, with the 1st and 2nd placers having a twice-to-beat advantage over the 3rd and 4th placers. Ateneo plays FEU, and the Archers try to reverse their two close losses to the Maroons.

What Are Our Chances?

To move further, we need to get past UP. Yesterday, the Maroons dominated the first half of their game against Ateneo, then stood toe-to-toe with the Blue Eagles before winning in the waning seconds. That victory is sure to boost the confidence of UP, who entered the tournament touted as strong contenders for the title.

Let’s first look at the numbers:

UP has a flashy, high powered and fast-paced offense predicated on their athleticism and speed.

  • Average points for – the Maroons tend to score more consistently; advantage UP
    • UP – 79
    • La Salle – 71
  • Total FGs – we took more attempts but were less accurate overall; advantage UP
    • UP – 402/972 (41%)
    • La Salle – 372/1000 (37%)
  • 2pt FG% – UP is more accurate; advantage UP
    • UP – 301/579 (52%)
    • La Salle – 291/691 (42%)
  • 3pt FG% – roughly the same accuracy, but UP likes to take more 3pointers, and a bigger percentage of their points come from beyond the arc; our perimeter defense will have to be on point
    • UP – 101/395 (25.6%)
    • La Salle – 81/309 (26%)
  • Points in the paint – UP has a tall and skilled frontline who operate well in the paint, while La Salle only has Balti and Mike Phillips who are inside threats; advantage UP
    • UP – 36.4
    • La Salle – 31
  • Free throws – UP is tops in trips to the foul line and make their fts at a higher rate; advantage UP
    • UP – 200/317 (63%); 22.6 fts attempted/game; 14.3 fts made/game
    • La Salle – 168/286 (58.7%); 20.4 fts attempted/game; 12 made fts/game
  • Rebounds – UP’s front line is a match for ours; evenly matched
    • UP – 217 offensive (15.5 ave), 430 defensive (30.7 ave) = 46.2/game
    • La Salle – 253 offensive (18 ave), 389 defensive (27.8 ave) = 45.8
  • Assists – UP plays a bit more cohesively, and their higher apg is probably due to the higher shooting percentage of UP; slight advantage to UP
    • UP – 18.6 / game
    • La Salle – 15 / game
  • Steals – the Archers tend to gamble a bit more on defense, leading to more steals but also leaving a shooter possibly open; slight advantage to the Archers
    • UP – 9.21 / game
    • La Salle – 9.9 / game
  • Blocked shots – the Archers are more successful at contesting shots; advantage La Salle
    • UP – 3.9 / game
    • La Salle – 4.7 / game
  • Turnovers – the Archers take care of the ball a bit more than the Maroons; slight advantage to Archers
    • UP – 17.6 / game
    • La Salle – 15.2 / game
  • Points allowed – the Archer defense is better at limiting opponents’ scoring; advantage La Salle
    • UP – 72.3
    • La Salle – 67.1

On paper, the Maroons seem to have an edge over the Archers.

If the Archers want to win, they’ll have to focus on throttling UP’s high octane offensive. UP scored 61 against us in the first round (61-59) and eked out a 72-69 repeat in the 2nd, averaging 66.5 against the Archers. That’s below their 78.9 average, so we’re able to successfully keep them from scoring. But if we want to win, we’ll need to do a bit more.

Lucero (13.4 ppg), Tamayo (13.1 ppg), Rivero (13.1 ppg), Cansino (9.3), and Diouf (9.1) are their most consistent scorers. One way of keeping their scores low is to closely mark their playmakers, particularly former Green Archer Cagulangan, who leads UP with a 5.3 assist/game. He is a key player in their offense, with a total +/- of +102, tied with Lucero.

Another critical area where the Archers need to focus on is the battle of the boards. Although we boast of one of the tallest teams, UP is able to match us. Lucero, Tamayo and Diouf are their most capable rebounders, and will need our bigs to be more active on both ends if we are to limit their effectiveness.

Let’s look at the UP players who could make the biggest impact. In our 2nd round game, Tamayo outscored Balti, 23-16, and matched him in rebounds, 11 to 12. Diouf excelled at rebounding, pulling down 18 to Mike Phillips 14. Cagulangan dished out 9 assists to help sink our efforts. Other Maroons who can make an impact are Cansino, Spencer, and Fortea.

On our side, Winston will need to deliver his usual 13 or more points by aggressively going for his shots from the perimeter. Our other shooters like Nelle, Nonoy, Lojera, and Manuel will also need to connect to open up the middle for Balti and Mike Phillips to operate inside. And we need to keep the UP bigs from hauling their usual number of boards.

Manong Derek is sure to have devised specific tactics against UP to take them out of their game and minimize their usual strengths. We’ll probably see some new stuff, such as modified press/traps for different situations, shifting to different schemes when the ball crosses halfcourt. Derek likes using zones, but his bread-and-butter defense is still the man-to-man. We could see some of our players assigned to specific opposing players end-to-end, and try to deny them the ball, or prevent them from receiving the ball in their favored spots.

On offense, expect different looks. Against NU, we saw plays designed to get the ball into our bigs deep in the paint; it worked to a certain extent, helped no doubt by the accurate sniping from the perimeter. Derek still has things he hasn’t unveiled, so there will be some more surprises.

We can be sure that the UP braintrust is also cooking up something special for us to help prevent a winner-take-all; they sure don’t want to play us twice.

Let’s take it one opponent at a time. For now, the UP game is the only important game in our future. We win, that opens up the rest of the future.

Here’s praying for the best on Wednesday.