by Neal Tieng
So close and yet so far.
After dominating the highly touted UP Maroons for a full 39 minutes and 53 seconds, the Green Archers from De La Salle suffered yet another last-minute heartbreak and yielded yet another game in the closing seconds, 71-72. That marginal triple by UP’s Juan Gomez De Liano drained the collective spirit of the rabid green gallery last September 25, 2019 at the MOA Arena, whose hopes had been buoyed by the seeming ability of the Archers to keep UP at bay throughout the game.
Beginning what was a 39 minutes domination, La Salle took control early and never relinquished the lead. And with every UP rally, La Salle had a swish for an answer.
When UP equalized at 61-all, Captain Andrei Caracut unleased another Curry-esque three with the shot clock winding down to wrest the lead back at 64-61 with 8 minutes to go. With another threat came another response as Aljun Melecio drained an open look from beyond the arc to push the Archers back on top 70-67 with 2:30 to go.
We were jumping and we were yelling. It felt like the championship season all over again. Amidst the rare celebratory cheers on the green side this season, finally we could almost smell victory over a top-flight team.
Justin Baltazar split his freethrows off a foul from UP’s Kobe Paras with 1:19 to go, that foul shot would eventually become La Salle’s final point at 71-67. It was all downhill from here.
UP’s Paras drained two shots from the charity lane off the final foul of Baltazar to trim the green lead to a single possession at 71-69, in an after-time-out play designed to attack the vulnerable La Salle interior defense.
Yet the Green Archers still had all the chances to win. Jaime Orme Malonzo was fouled by Bright Akhuetie with 49 seconds to go. Crumbling under the pressure, Malonzo clanked both tries paving the way for another UP attempt.
But the W was really not meant to be ours even when our opponents were virtually choking under the same pressure.
Brandon Bates skied high for the rebound after UP missed another attempt to equalize when Juan Gomez De Liano muffed a point-blank shot. After being pressed, Bates passed to Melecio’s left leg as the ball rolled outside giving the Fighting Maroons another shot.
With 20 seconds left, UP’s Jun Manzo threw a wild lay-up and Bates hauled down his 8th rebound. Wasting precious seconds before bringing the ball close to midcourt, Melecio had to throw a desperate pass to prevent the 8 second violation that landed in the waiting hands of Juan Gomez De Liano. And this Maroon did not miss this time. After the interception, he lined up for an open trey and swished the marginal basket to complete the UP heist and completely stole a won game from De La Salle.
THE BRIGHT SPOTS
TEAM BASKETBALL – which was on display for a full three quarters. La Salle is finally embracing team basketball. Beautiful ball movement and making the extra pass to the open man resulted in La Salle outplaying UP 15-10 in the assist department. And the team game did not end on offense. The Green Archers defensive rotation was evident and gang rebounding allowed La Salle to neutralize the presence UP import Bright Akhuetie and out rebound the Maroons 53-45.
THE ANIMO IS BACK – probably 75% of the UAAP fans expected UP to dominate the game. After all, La Salle had not shown much this season in terms of chemistry, offensive fluidity and hustle. But the Green Archers are starting to show that a bias on team basketball and game-long hustle can do wonders.
JORDAN BARTLETT – the former NU Bulldog who had previously not seen much court time in the season finally was given the window to show his wares. Bartlett proved one thing – he can score. Whether off the dribble, or a catch and shoot look, Bartlett can create and be a viable option to score even on a broken play.
THE TIGERS ARE NEXT
We will face our favorite whipping boys for the last three seasons, the Growling Tigers of UST. But fate has already taken a major turn. UST is no longer the import-less, brick-throwing team we have known for the past years.
With athletic speed demon Mark Nonoy and the prolific Rhenz Abando plus a workhorse of an import in Soulemane Chabi-Yo, La Salle will have their work cut out for them on Saturday at 2pm at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Can we beat these Tigers once more?
Chances are always there when we keep on fighting.
ANIMO LA SALLE!!!