Finally, a win that reflected the potential of the team that many of us felt was there but was never manifested in the first round. The Archers coasted to a comfortable 73-52 victory that allowed them to regain a tie for 4th place with NU. The blowout victory was achieved despite the absence of mainstays LA and Yutien, who were down with sprains and were held out to let them recuperate.
UE came into the game reeling from twin setbacks – a loss to hitherto winless UP in their last game, and a change in head coaches. But despite languishing at the bottom of the standings together with UP and Adamson, the Warriors battled the Archers on even terms in the first quarter and even took the lead after 10 minutes. However, the Archer defense stiffened to hold UE to just 8 points while scoring 16 to grab the lead for good in the second quarter.
The Warriors managed to keep pace in the 3rd quarter, but crumbled under the combined onslaught of Jeron, AVO, Norbert, and Almond, with strong performances from Joshua, Jovet, Thomas, and Jed, as the Archers pounded UE in the final 2 cantos, 42-28 to win pulling away.
Was this the turning point of the season?
Not quite. As previously mentioned, we caught UE at a low point. The change in coaches must have caused some upheaval in the chemistry of the team, and that loss to erstwhile bottom dweller UP was demoralizing. However, the Warriors gave this a decent try, outdoing us in second chance points, 18-13 and in turnover points, 14-12.
Our turnovers, a recurring weak point of our game this season, ballooned to 23 from an average of around 17. This was one of the weakest teams this season, and we coughed up the ball that many times against them. UE managed to steal the ball 9 times, proving that there are still significant lapses in the way we take care of the ball. Most of the turnovers were made by our bigs, so some more training is needed to help them hang on to the spheroid.
Our foul shooting was a decent 15 out of 23, but that’s not good since there was not much pressure on us in this game. UE still managed to score against us on isolation plays, led by Sumang, and our perimeter defense allowed Belleza to score on open jumpers from afar.
The Archers are one of the top rebounding teams of the league, and dominated the battle of the boards by a whopping 66-40. However, the second change points of UE showed that we still need to work hard to keep opponents away from the boards.
Are we there yet?
Almost. Delivering a better performance than last year is a process, a journey. The team is about midway, just about right at this point of the tournament. The team play is much smoother, and the movements, passing, and teamwork is starting to look automatic. Jeron has emerged as the team’s most potent scorer, and has shown his willingness to accept the responsibility of making baskets in crucial parts of the game. Our defense has started to show its teeth, and is the best in terms of holding down the opponents’ scoring. Our rebounding is pretty good, and is one of our key weapons this season. Expect the rate of improvement to accelerate with each game.
Offensively, we have proven that we can hit the long ball with threats from LA, Jeron, Joshua, Jed, and even Thomas, preventing opponents from packing the paint. We have slashers like Jeron, Joshua, Almond, and LA, who can penetrate and dish or take it all the way. Our perimeter defenders like Jed and Mac have the foot speed and smarts to stay ahead of their fleetfooted counterparts.
So why aren’t we one of the frontrunners?
Well, we lost a few games by the skin of our teeth. Games which could have gone either way, but didn’t. Our 4-3 record could have easily been 6-1 or 5-2. But that’s water under the bridge. After our game with UE, we’re at 5-3, and since NU just lost to UST, we have solo 4th place, a half game ahead of NU which is at 5-4.
Those close games will have exposed the team to the pressure of tight games, and so far, they’ve responded well. Our win against UE should give the team more confidence and an idea of how good they can be.
We’re just 2 games behind frontrunning Ateneo, and 1.5 games behind FEU and UST. These 3 teams still need to face each other, so there will definitely be a shake up in the standings. We win, we will be in a position to capitalize on the results. With the team still to peak, it’s not a bad place to be.
We’re up against UST on Wednesday. The Tigers will rely on their perimeter shooters Bautista and Jeric Teng to open up the lanes for penetrators like Mariano and big man Karim Abdul. There is also a question of the fitness of LA and Yutien, but we have good enough reserves who can fill in their shoes.
We have an even chance against UST. With our tag team bigs pressuring Abdul, we should not lose the battle of the boards. Our perimeter defenders will need to keep close tabs on Bautista, who has a habit of torching us from the long court. Mariano and Ferrer will also pose problems with their outside-inside game.
We’ve seen the best of UST already, but I suspect that the other teams have not yet seen the full flavor of 2012 Archer ball. There are still a few tricks up our coaches’ sleeves, which will be unveiled at the proper time.
We will probably finish the second round at 5-2, good enough to get into the final 4 with a 9-5 record.