This was a game the Green Archers couldn’t afford to lose. They didn’t.
The Green Archers blew hot and cold before finishing strong to overcome the hard-fighting UP Maroons, 76-69 yesterday. Almond Vosotros continued his sterling play, playing fireman at the critical moments to almost personally put the Archers beyond UP’s reach in the 4th quarter, where he put in 14 of his top-scoring 21 points.
After UE pulled off a monumental upset over Ateneo, UP came out inspired, hoping to give the Archers the same treatment. They scored the first 4 points of the game, fell back as the Archers regrouped, recovered and even took a 3-point lead at 27-30, then gave back the initiative to the Archers at the half, 34-39 as the we finished strong. Jeron and Norbert dominated the first half, scoring 16 and 11 points respectively.
Jeron and Norbert started the second half where they left off, scoring two quick baskets as the Archers threatened to blow the game wide open, 43-34. The Maroons stormed back to wrest the lead at 45-46, at which point our veterans Jovet and Almond strung together 3 quick baskets to take the lead for good, 54-48 at the end of the third quarter. Then the Almond Vosotros show started. With the Archers holding a slim 55-54 lead, Almond scored 14 out of the final 22 La Salle points to personally will the team to victory, as he almost matched the score of the entire UP team in the 4th quarter, 14-19.
Nice win, yes?
Well, yes and no.
We needed the win for sure, given that we are literally neck-and-neck with NU in the race to the playoffs.
We saw our players step up individually and as a team, especially when UP made those runs in the second half. We seem to have more weapons now in our offensive arsenal, with Almond re-emerging as a threat from afar and as a penetrator. Jeron is a threat from all areas on the court, and Norbert can score inside.
We had 3 players in double digits: Almond (21), Jeron (19), and Norbert (13). Frontliners Jovet and AVO collaborated for 13 points inside and effectively fished for fouls from the UP big men, resulting in Soyud’s departure on fouls.
Yutien continued his recovery from injury, logging 25 minutes and harassing any UP player who ventured into the paint; he had 3 blocks. Oda saw action for 15 minutes, and while he scored only 2 points, was active on the boards with 5 rebounds, and bodied up on his counterparts. Macmac played 15 minutes, did not score, but contributed on the hustle plays and managed a block as well.
We were successfully able to keep UP away from the boards, which was expected since the Maroons probably have the shortest team in the league this year.
But we allowed the bottom dwelling Maroons to put in 69 points and UP forward Manuel got away with three and-1 plays including a 4-point play in the first half. Our defensive switching, while a bit better, still had our defenders getting lost in the shuffle, allowing gunner Silungan to get away with 2 treys. A bit more work is also needed on defending screens, because UP still managed to get in a few layups. And the secondary defense will have to be alert once a dribbler is able to slip past their primary defender.
Our selection was questionable at times, giving the shorter Maroons the opportunity to block 9 of our shots, many of them taken by our bigs, who seemed to forget how tall and long they really are. Our bigs are fond of faking and double pumping on shots taken at point blank range. This brings the ball being brought down to a level where shorter players can reach out to deflect the shot, sometimes resulting in a turnover because the tapped ball ricochets off the shooter on its way down. Perhaps they should look at Shaquille O’Neal and study his power moves. Shaq wasn’t worried about getting blocked, unlike our centers whose first instinct is to pump fake when guarded. With their relative size compared to the other centers, they can actually pull off those kinds of moves. Shaq didn’t fake a lot, he powered his way to the goal with the sole intent of stuffing the ball in the basket. That’s the kind of single-minded aggressiveness they need to become dominant centers.
We also seemed to be a step slow on the hustle plays, allowing UP to scramble for loose balls; even pint-sized Gamboa managed to pull down an offensive rebound against our center. A few times, our players were caught ball watching, probably expecting a teammate to go for the loose ball, which ended up with UP because no one thought to take an extra step to grab the ball. Boxing out is one thing, but they also must remember to go for the ball, not wait for a teammate to get it.
Our passing into the post has to improve – it’s been the source of turnovers at the post, both on the part of the passer and the post player. Speaking of turnovers, we still committed 17, far too many for comfort. Some of them were lazy passes – our standard sets have been scouted, and the opponents have been able to anticipate and get into the passing lanes. Our bigs will have to learn how to handle the ball in traffic in the paint. Norbert gave away 5 possessions by himself, and as a result, was benched in the final quarter. In 11 games, Jeron has been averaging almost 3 turnovers a game. He has to manage his aggressiveness, and learn to utilize his talents in the scheme of the things. Overall, UP scored 24 points out of our turnovers, far too many. We can’t afford to give away so many turnovers and points off turnovers if we want to place well. In contrast, UP had only 10 turnovers.
One indication that yesterday’s game wasn’t as smooth as it could be – we had only 8 assists on 25 field goals. That’s not very good for a team-oriented offense. And UP outran us, scoring 15 fastbreak points to our 6. Our transition defense needs more work.
We were successful in attacking the basket and foul baiting UP, and our players were rewarded with 36 free throws. However, we gave away 14 points on misses from the line, hitting only 61.1%, resulting in a game that was much closer than it should have been.
We’re up against NU, which is competing with us for the final playoff slot. We outlasted NU in double overtime in the first round, in a pulsating thriller. We know what they do – shoot well from the outside, let Parks create and help him by giving him lots of screens, and occasionally go to their big men inside. Much like what Adamson liked to do against us in the last few years.
Parks is a potent and versatile scorer who can shoot from outside and create for himself, so he’s a tough cover for our defenders. Focus too much on him, and their shooters will park themselves on the 3point line, he’ll get them the ball, and they’ll bomb away. Give him one-on-one coverage, and he will make it to the basket. The ‘dogs like to run and gun. Tough job for the coaches.
But our braintrust is resourceful and creative. I suspect that there are still a few things they’ve cooked up that we haven’t seen yet. They’ll prepare specifically for NU. If LA is able to play, we’ll have more options and a bit more stability, and it will allow Almond to spend more time at the SG position. Jeron will do his usual thing and get his points. I hope that our bigs don’t do the usual thing though, in terms of point blank misses and poorly hoisted shots. They can be dominant; hope they wake up with that single thought in mind on Sunday.
At 7-4, we’re in pretty good shape, but 8-4 is better. A win will probably give us a tie for the last slot and drop NU a game behind us. With the UAAP board’s decision nullifying FEU’s controversial win over NU, we’re now tied in the loss column. We can expect the Bulldogs to go all out for a victory to get a leg up on us. It’s up to our team to prevent this from happening. But with the team starting to peak, we can do it. Let’s just not let it go to another double overtime, shall we? Win big, win ugly in regulation. But JUST WIN!