Almost but not quite. Just when we were beginning to think that entertaining any hopes of making the final 4 would be an exercise in futility, the Green Archers proved us wrong. Again.
The Green Archers flirted with disaster early in the game against UP, in the process almost preserving their immaculate record in the second round before managing to eke out a 1-point victory, 73-72. In a game of streaking teams (losing, that is), UP threatened to break theirs and snuff out our faint hopes of making the playoffs. Only a almost superhuman effort behind a 50-point second half production allowed the Archers to rally from 12 points down at the half to wrest the lead in the final 10 minutes and weather UP’s last ditch stand. I guess we were lucky that UP is a weak team, or our steak would still be alive. And we’d bid adieu to the playoffs. Not so fast. We’re still alive, albeit just barely.
UP sprinted to an early lead behind another Archer single digit quarter (only 7 points in the first) which, coupled with our double digit turnovers, allowed them to build a 16-point lead at the end of the first quarter, 7-23, then log an unbelievable 20-point lead at 11-31 early in the second quarter. Those miscues, backed up by another porous zone defense (we did it again!!!) allowed UP to dominate the proceedings in the first 20 minutes. Only a strong finishing kick allowed the Archers to trim the lead to 12 at the half. But they made up for that lackluster performance by ratcheting up the intensity in the final 20 minutes, cutting down the turnovers to just 5 while forcing UP to cough up the ball 11 times in the same period to end the game with just a hairline lead.
What went wrong
Lots again. Another replay of ugly ball in the first half.
Those errors which UP turned into 22 points. Again, we won (or is it lost?) the turnover battle, committing 20 against UP’s 18. The errors allowed Gamboa to score 7 consecutive points in just 30 seconds in the first quarter off a shot-clock-beating trey and 2 consecutive turnovers which he turned into layups. Incidentally, all by himself, Gamboa equaled the entire output of our team in the first quarter.
We went zone for long stretches (again!!!) which permitted the undersized Maroons to haul down 54 rebounds, of which 24 were offensive boards. We were outrebounded (again!!!) by 12, a sad commentary on last year’s best rebounding team. Those extra possessions gave UP the opportunity to shoot 84 times, against our 60 attempts. It’s a good thing that they only managed a 36% shooting clip from the field.
Our defense was again relatively porous, particularly in the first half. Our press was again easily broken, despite the new double team ploy in the backcourt – easily broken because the other UP guard was always left unguarded when his man tried to double team the ball handler. And the coaches stubbornly kept the zone for stretches, which UP predictably broke by finding the holes in the zone through quick passing and penetration by UP’s dribblers. Only when the Archers went man-to-man in the second half was the rally able to succeed.
Our offense, particularly in the first half, went totally awry. Only a last second trey by LA kept our first quarter from being entirely a Maui Villanueva dominated score sheet, and Maui only had 4 points. The first 10 minute period was our 4th single digit quarter this year, almost surely the most by any team this season.
Again, the revolving door substitutions continued, with our coaches fielding in 13 players in the first half alone in a desperate attempt to find a working combination. Probably a continuation of the 4-point, 5-minute, 1 error rule that seems to guide the player rotation this season.
The individual performance of a couple of key Archers continued to slide. Sam only managed 1 point and 3 attempts from the field, and Jovet’s stats showed only 2 attempts and nothing else out of his 4 minutes.
The perennial problem of free throws continued. Poor foul shooting is now beginning to sound like a trademark of the Green Archers – making only 19 out of 31 attempts.
What we did right
Interestingly, the second half success was driven by broken plays instead of effective play calling. Almond triggered the rally with 7 consecutive points, LA dribbled through the UP defenses for tough layups, Norbert asserted his height advantage for timely points inside, and Luigi rediscovered his outside stroke.
Simon was a steady influence on defense, making things tough for Silungan and ably helping to orchestrate the offense in the second half. His statistics may not have been as gaudy as we’d like, but the intangibles he contributed helped immensely, particularly in the second half. Papot also reprised his interior defense performance last year, pulling down 4 boards, blocking 2 shots and altering several others.
Norbert had his best game so far, logging a double double with 15 points and 12 rebounds to go with 2 assists, 1 steal and a block. He made most of his fts for a change, going 7/9. He was able to capitalize on his height and size advantage, battling UP on the boards and together with AVO, helped make UP’s import Mbah a non-factor. AVO also showed a better game, baiting Mbah into early foul trouble and contributing 3 crucial assists to Papot and Norbert. Finally, our tallest frontline players are starting to show their wares.
After 15 turnovers in the first half, the Green Archers committed only 5 miscues after the break, and this shut down the source of UP’s easy points (17 off turnovers in the first half, but only 5 in the second half).
And the Archers proved that they can actually shot the ball well. In the 4th quarter, they made 64% of their shots from the field, going 75% (6/8) from the 2-point area and 50% (3/6) from beyond the arc. But (yes, there is a downside), they suffered a relapse, missing 6 of their 10 fts in the last 10 minutes after going 11/12 in the 3rd quarter.
The game showed that the Archers can, on occasion, summon the will power, determination, and ability to overcome adversity, persevere, and win. That second half was a glimpse of how well the Archers can play. Now if only they had showed that gumption, desire, and all-out effort much earlier …
Well, as been often stated, our fate is no longer in the hands of the team. They must win both remaining games against NU and FEU, and hope that UST loses both their games. Then we can tie the Tigers and force them into a playoff.
Maybe we shouldn’t write off this season just yet. There are still signs of life.