Still a work in progress.
The 61-71 loss of the Green Archers against the experienced defending champions underscored the unfinished nature of the team, particularly the end-game miscues that derailed a last ditch rally. We almost had them. For the casual observer and fair weather fan, not very encouraging.
However, the fight back from an early 16point deficit also highlighted the untapped potential lurking just below the surface, and only a lack of maturity compared to their composed rivals in the critical stages prevented the Archers from pulling off an upset.
So what happened?
A poor start, probably due to jitters, that allowed Ateneo to pull ahead to a 12point lead after a quarter, 8-20. It felt like a relapse into the single digit (quarter) nightmares of last year.
It got worse. The Blue Eagles extended their lead to 16 at 10-26, threatening to blow the much anticipated encounter into a runaway. Almost the same team as we had last year, so the same result, right?
Not quite. The Archers recovered their wits, made a run to cut it to 7 before Ateneo snatched a last-gasp followup from Slaughter to take a 9point lead at the half. The fightback continued in the 3rd, where our team outscored their counterparts 24-18 and even took the lead before Ateneo closed strong to take a precarious 50-53 lead after 3.
It was in the last quarter where the veteran nature of the Eagles carried the game. They went to Slaughter who muscled his way into the paint for short jumpers. The Archers coughed up the ball a few times, which were turned into fastbreak points on the other end. However, the final score was not indicative of the struggle Ateneo had to go through to get the win.
What went wrong?
A few things, as usual with a rebuilt team like ours.
The turnovers – the Archers gave up 17, around their average so far this year. There is still some residual unfamiliarity with the new system, with passes going awry because of wrong positioning. Ateneo scored 14 points off our turnovers, some of which they turned into fastbreaks (12 points).
The tension, or ‘gigil’ was there, probably causing some missed gimmes right in front of the goal, and overly energetic, hard-to-catch passes. Perhaps the players wanted to win too much. A few botched coverages also, particularly during double teaming situations, where an opponent was able to cut and get a pass in good scoring position.
We fouled quite a number of times, 28 in all, leading to foul trouble in all quarters. As a result, we gave up 34 attempts from the line to Ateneo. Luckily, they missed 9. We gifted the Ateneo bigs with 16 free throws, of which they converted 13. Note to self: don’t foul them too often in the second round.
Our outside shooting was erratic, and as a result, Ateneo packed the paint, preventing penetrations from our slashers and allowing them to swarm Norbert, Jovet, Yutien, and any Archer who dared take a shot close to the basket. Our 4 out of 18 clip from beyond the arc wasn’t enough to force Ateneo to extend their defensive wall.
They also frequently blitzed our ball handlers whenever we tried a high pick-and-roll, taking some time off our shot clock and requiring an offensive reset. They showed hard and doubled all the time against Jeron to prevent him from taking his man one-on-one, reducing his effectiveness and forcing the ball out of his hands. We were able to capitalize a few times when LA and Jeron split the double team, but most often we had to pass out. This was the same tactic FEU pulled against us in the previous game.
And the way we were able (or unable) to control the opposing bigs. Ateneo’s system is predictable, consistent, and very well executed. Whenever Slaughter operated from the left side of the court, he would invariably dribble to his left into the paint. He rarely if ever drove to his right. Yet we were unable to stop his moves. Perhaps it was the threat of his passing to an open man when we double teamed him with Yutien. Also, when Slaughter had to pass out on a low-high play, he would re-position in front of the basket, and more often than not, would get the ball back within arm’s reach of the goal. With that height and length, it’s a gimme, a sure basket. In this manner, he was able to dump 20 points on us. Salva also got away with 16 on a variety of drives on cuts when our defense crowded Slaughter, the same number Ravena tallied via drives and layups.
What went right?
With the loss to our greatest rival, the threat of continued domination continued. So is there something positive we can glean from the loss?
The fightback. This year’s edition of the Archers has the spunk that was missing in the past. They got over the initial jitters and fought back hard, giving outgoing Ateneo coach Black some obviously anxious moments, and creating some FUD (that’s Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) among their supporters that the next time we meet, the same result is not assured.
The system. Our players obviously are pretty familiar with the new plays and patterns. We take the time (sometimes too much, though) to set up, and it becomes a matter of execution, which unfortunately, isn’t close to 100% yet. But they’re getting there.
Free throws. Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a problem? Not in this game. We made 15 out of 20, even outperforming the Blue Eagles in terms of percentage. Our foul shots are starting to look better, and hopefully this trend continues.
Our defense. It’s becoming a real weapon. We gave up a total of 186 points in our first 3 games (UP-68, UE-59, FEU-48) for 3-game average of 58.3. We allowed Ateneo to score 71 last Saturday, but at least 6 of those came in the last couple of minutes when our game fell apart. Our perimeter defense totally blanked the Blue Eagle 3point shooters, forcing them to miss all 7 tries.
We played a bit better as a team, with 12 assists on 21 field goals compared to Ateneo’s 10 out of 23. We also fought Ateneo to a draw on the boards, 45 caroms each, but we were better on the offensive glass, with 21 against their 16.
But still, we didn’t get the “W”. Unfortunately.
UST is our next opponent on Saturday. They’ve pulled off two king-sized victories over pre-season favorites Ateneo and NU, and gave away a won ballgame against FEU in the last few seconds. They could easily have an immaculate record of 3-0. With the comebacking Bautista and Mariano, and the much-improved Abdul patrolling the lane, they’re legitimate title threats. They can bomb away from afar or take it inside. It will be a tough one for sure. UST are probably the favorites in our upcoming encounter, but our Archers are resilient, and are constantly improving as the games go on. We’ve seen areas where they’ve gotten better, and hopefully this trend will continue.
It will be interesting.