In what probably counts as one of the biggest shockers so far in S73, our Green Archers upended the fancied Ateneo Blue Eagles, 66-63 yesterday at the Araneta Coliseum. After trailing by 9 with slightly less than 4 minutes left in the game, many of our supporters had given them up for lost. But in a characteristic (at least for this Archers team) show of their never-day-die attitude, the team smothered the blue-and-white offensive, holding them to a single point while pouring in 13 in an explosive burst that “shocked and awed” the Eagles into submission. At the end, Ateneo still had a faint chance to send the game into overtime, but still reeling from that 3minute burst of intense pressure, they could not execute the play drawn up by Coach Black and had to pin their hopes on their center Chua for tying 3pointers which he missed badly.
Joshua Webb finally broke out of his slump, tallying 12 points despite being tightly marked all game long, and he led a balanced scoring parade with 11 out of the 12 Archers breaking into the scoring column. Last game’s best player Maui Villanueva played a very quiet game, concentrated on the defensive end, and teamed with Andrada to tend the boards where he pulled down 5 rebounds and made the painted area an unfriendly zone for any Blue Eagle who dared venture near the ring.
Can we mention streak in the same breath as Green Archers? With the win, we broke a 2-year, 6-game losing streak, and improbably started a very modest 2-game winning skein.
What went wrong?
Not much, since we won. However, there were obvious lapses in concentration, and still some miscommunication resulting in turnovers, showing that this team still has some work to do to refine its teamwork. There were also miscues on defense, allowing Chua to get free to score on a couple of baseline plays.
What went right
The players never lost their focus or concentration. That’s impressive. There was a game plan drawn up by the coaches, as well as options (plan b, c, d, etc). The players stuck to it, never played out of control, always looked for each other, and except for a couple of botched defensive assignments, were almost always in position where they were supposed to be.
The fighting spirit of this edition of the Archers shone through again in their comeback from deficits throughout the game to take the lead. Never mind the numbers, the absolute refusal to lose allowed them to claw back when Ateneo parlayed an almost perfect offensive stretch at the start of the 4th quarter into a 9point lead with under 4 minutes to go. This team may be outplayed at times, but they will not stop competing until the final buzzer sounds.
The defense was unrelenting for a full 40 minutes. The gamelong pressure eventually told on the shorter rotation of the Blue Eagles, forcing Long to play longer minutes which resulted in his fouling out, and Monfort limped out because of cramps the end of the game when solid guard play was most needed.
The defense started with the trademark La Salle full court press, settling down to an extended perimeter shield that prevented open looks from the long court, backed up by a quick-shifting secondary defense that clogged the middle and cut off passing lanes. The full court pressure forced Ateneo to use up the shot clock just to get the ball into scoring position, and the Blue Eagles had to take hurried shots just to avoid a shot clock violation. Kirk Long had a couple of extremely lucky shots including a double pump shot clock-beating trey and a no-look drive, both under threat from shotblockers. Salva, Ateneo’s best inside operator, was intimidated by a block early in the game, and ended up being gun-shy throughout the game. Our bigs Jovet Mendoza and Papot Paredes swatted away 4 Ateneo attempts in the paint. Even when he received an open pass to score late in the game, his shooting form exhibited uncertainty.
The halfcourt defense merits special mention, as it constantly stymied Ateneo’s systematic sets that create open looks on the perimeter using quick passing plays. Many of Ateneo’s points resulted not from their sets but from individual attempts, broken plays, or second chance points.
The Archer defense forced 18 turnovers, possibly the most critical were the throw-in traps late in the game during the rally that gave us the lead for good. The pressure also wore out the Blue Eagles, and by the end of the game, the Archers had fresher legs and were outjumping and outrunning their competition. Turnovers netted us 13 points against Ateneo’s 6.
Again, like in the previous victories, the long shot was established early as a threat, forcing the defense to extend farther which opened up the interior for penetration by our speedy players. Sam Marata in particular shone from the long court, sinking all his 4 attempts, but none more important than the consecutive treys that hauled us back from a 4point deficit to a 2point lead. Webb also had his highest scoring game, taking advantage of the stretched perimeter defense by using his explosive speed to penetrate and score or fish fouls on his drives.
The up-tempo game of the Archers forced Ateneo into uncharacteristic personnel decisions that puzzled most of their supporters. In particular, Buenafe, regarded by the blue community as Ateneo’s best go-to guy, saw only 15 minutes of action even after he scored 7 points in the first half to power Ateneo to leads at the end of the first 2 quarters. The decision by the coaches to bench Buenafe may have exposed the thinking that Buenafe as a 1-way player, great on the offensive end but a significant liability against a team that will run at the slightest chance. Buenafe’s calculated, almost “slow mo” moves that work so well for him on offense could not help the Atenean transition defense whenever the Archers broke for the basket, which they did often whenever the the whiff of an opportunity presented itself.
The quick-passing, ever moving Archer half-court sets also threatened to leave Buenafe stranded and his man open, forcing Coach Black to give his minutes to Bacon Austria. Austria is is now being widely blamed in various forums for the loss by many of their vocal supporters because his playing time down the stretch came at Buenafe’s expense. Buenafe’s weakness on defense was clearly highlighted by Marata’s last play, where he cut from the baseline to the keyhole, leaving Buenafe 4 steps behind and struggling to get around a single screen at the foul line, too far away to be any threat as Marata launched his wide open dagger shot. On that fateful play, none of Buenafe’s teammates could have bailed him out because they were all busy watching their own men. Good execution of the play resulting in a great shot, aided by poor defense. Do we see Buenafe hit the bench more often? He will be called on when they need offense because of his shooting and passing skills, but when you consider his overall value, his defensive liabilities could just offset his plusses on the other end.
The coaching team must be given full credit for the preparation of the for this game. The coaches obviously did their homework, scouting the first 3 games of Ateneo, noting their patterns, player tendencies, and identifying potential areas to attack. They picked apart the Ateneo passing offense, relying on single coverage while putting pressure on the ball handler. This prevented Ateneo from getting their usual open looks on the weak side and allowed our interior defense to shift appropriately and cover any potential holes in the paint. The half court defense also was varied and unpredictable, and Ateneo play calling was made more difficult because our pressure defense ate up their shot clock. The high pick-and-roll was also well defended whenever Ateneo attempted to run it.
Our players were prepared for Salamat’s tricky perimeter plays, and he ended up with an ineffectual 6 points. Salva’s post moves to his right were also closely watched, and Salva underperformed with only 5 points, giving Chua the opportunity to have more touches which he translated into 16 points.
The Archers’ gang rebounding helped offset the height advantage of Ateneo, and although Ateneo scored 9 points on second chances, this was a manageable number. Andrada led our rebounding with 7, Maui and Almond pulled down 5 each. And Sam, Joel, and Jovet accounted for 4 apiece.
The game numbers
The game statistics bear out the intensity of our team in yesterday’s games. They went and usually got the 50-50 balls. We outran them and scored more on fastbreaks 16-5. We translated their 18 turnovers (we had an equal number) into 13 points while they managed only 6. Assists were more or less equal, 17-16, as were blocks 4-3, but they had more steals 7-9. Interestingly, our smaller team actually outrebounded Ateneo, 45-44, showing the desire of our players.
Compared with our game against UE, our shooting stats took a dip, 19 out of 58 overall, but 5 out of 14 (35.7%) from 3ooint range. Our improvement in free throw shooting continued with the team sinking 23 out of 33 attempts for almost 70%.
The rookie watch
Four rookies logged time in yesterday’s game. Oda Tampus (6 points in 6 minutes) created an instant impact when he was fielded in late during our decisive run, scoring 2 quick baskets in transition and harassing his guard on the other end. His skill as a slasher will be maximized once the opponents’ defense is opened to guard against our outside shooters. Luigi dela Paz played well again, logging 19 minutes as a swingman, scored 5 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, picked Ateneo’s pocket twice, and was instrumental in maintaining the uptempo game. Almond Vosotros again ably served as backup quarterback, scoring only 3 points on free throws but pulling down 5 boards. Papot Paredes played only 9 minutes, pulled down 3 boards, did not score any points but was significant in intimidating the Ateneo bigs like Salva with his 2 blocks.
Marata shone brightest on the offensive, hitting all his 3point shots for 12 points on top of 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. Joel Tolentino again ably directed the Archer offensive, focused on getting the ball to his teammates while taking advantage of openings given to him to penetrate and foul bait for 5 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Banal, Elorde, Reyes, Herrera
Top pick FEU looms as our next opponent. The Tams have it all: good scoring guards and forwards, a solid interior manned by Smart Gilas player Aldrecht Ramos, Reil Cervantes and Pipo Noundou. It will be tough going against them, and again our young Archers will be the underdogs, but with their performance against Ateneo, who will dare count out the never-say-die Green Archers?