Written by Neal Tieng
Photos by Riel Samoy
Did we ever imagine that the season of the Green Archers would depend on a single game after two rounds of elimination games.
The Green Archers finished at 8-6, tied with UP and FEU for fourth behind Ateneo (12-2), and Adamson (10-4). UP took 3rd with a better quotient. So now there will be a playoff for that last Final Four slot and our Green Archers are in for a battle.
Two minutes after the tip-off of the crucial game between Adamson and FEU, it was apparent, FEU was going to walk away with the victory, pushing La Salle to a playoff game for the last semis slot which will happen in the Araneta Coliseum this coming Wednesday at 3:30pm.
The season series is split between La Salle and FEU with the Archers losing a won game on opening day at 61-68 before exacting revenge in the second round 65-57 over an import-less Tamaraw team. But this playoff game would have FEU import Prince Orizu back into their starting five.
Ironically, both games were almost identical statistically. Shooting percentages were identical, the Green Archers dominated the scoring inside the paint on both games and La Salle fared horribly from the 15-foot line including an 8-of-19 (47%) outing in the second round.
La Salle’s strong frontline is also known to produce many extra possessions by defending the glass better at +7 rebounds in the first round and +12 in the second.
So where exactly did La Salle win the second-round game? Smarter basketball.
In the first round, La Salle shot 25 out of their 72 possessions from beyond the arc and hitting only five shots while in the second round, La Salle took care of business inside the paint and only attempted 16 long bombs.
Orizu’s absence made the shaded lane the sandbox of Justin Baltazar, Leonard Santillan and Brandon Bates. In the second round, the trio combined for 34 points compared to the first round when Baltazar scored only 8 points while Bates added 2.
WHAT GOT US INTO THIS MESS
Control your destiny or someone else will, as one famous book by Jack Welch used to say.
Zooming near home with an 8-4 slate with a shot at that twice-to-beat advantage, the Green Archers only needed to win once for an outright berth. Easier said than played especially if the remaining two games were teams in the thick of title contention, Ateneo and UP.
La Salle’s plan to get Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame into very early foul trouble worked, and the Ateneo import was tagged with his second foul with still 4:31 left in the first quarter. As the Archers smelled Eagle blood, the Taft five starring Baltazar, Santillan, Aljun Melecio and Joaqui Manuel started to create some space and led 22-18 at the end of the first and expanded that lead to 32-24 with 2:27 left in the second canto.
And that unfortunately was the best La Salle would give in the game. Ateneo erased the lead with a 9-1 run capped by a Matt Nieto triple to equalize at 33-all in the span of a minute and 46 seconds.
A seesaw 3rd quarter followed, and all Ateneo needed to do was capitalize on La Salle mistakes, build a two-possession lead and play steady the rest of the way. The Blue Eagles feasted on La Salle offensive mistakes and transformed at 52-55 contest into 56-63 game with 4:34 to go, virtually sealing all green and white offensive options and holding the Archers scoreless for more than three minutes.
We all hoped that the loss would fire the team up, but instead the Green Archers went into deep slumber in the most crucial game of the year against UP with the winner bagging automatic 3rd while the loser gets into a complicated situation.
The Green Archers was deadly at the get-go and raced to an early 12-6 lead and looked like they would produce another massacre game like the 42-point win against UST.
UP had a different plan.
After the last basket by Taane Samuel pegged the score at 14-8, the Fighting Maroons canned four triples in a span of three minutes to take control of the first quarter at 17-25 and grab the lead for good.
The remaining quarters were an exhibition of Green Archer mediocrity, allowing UP 27 points in the second quarter while only scoring 11 to end the half with a 52-29 gap that all but decided the contest. La Salle only made 4 field goals in the entire 10 minutes with Baltazar being the lone productive Green Archer.
THE END OR JUST THE BEGINNING
The De La Salle Green Archers basketball program has always been a winner. It is a program with a vision to be consistently competitive and relevant over the years.
Despite the two-game skid, the Green Archers are expected to battle FEU head-on and fight for that Final Four slot to gain a return bout against the defending champions and arch-rivals Ateneo.
Should the Green Archers prevail, they will face a daunting foe in the defending champions, who swept the second round. But it has been done before. A win to get into the Final Four, two wins for the finals and another two for the title.
We have been here before. We did the impossible. Why not this time?
ANIMO LA SALLE!