No España detour, the championship has hopped on the LRT and gone straight to Vito Cruz, Taft.

In front of the biggest crowd ever assembled for a basketball game in the Philippines, the De La Salle Green Archers were standing tall with heads, arms and spirits raised up high as the new UAAP Champions.

Victory! (Photo credit: Edmar Borromeo, The La Sallian)

The game lived up to the hype in every sense of the word as both juggernaut teams went at it from the tip off. La Salle came up ahead with a very slim 16-15 lead after the first quarter of play, both Tengs traded blows early – the older one doing damage from all around the floor while the younger picked points off from the line.

Things looked very bad for La Salle in the second quarter as they couldn’t buy a basket. While Jeric Teng, Karim Abdul and Kevin Ferrer were chopping up their defense, the Archers found it very difficult to score. As UST clamped down in the paint, not only were the Archers forced to shoot from outside but it took away their second chance opportunities which they relied heavily on in their previous two games.

Mid-way through the third quarter, after dipping as low as 15 points, the Archers broke through the wall and unleashed a 17-6 run that closed the gap to just a single point going into the fourth.

As the fourth quarter buzzer sounded and Aljon’s shot grazed the rim, the score was tied at 65, meaning the epic battle would have to go on for another five minutes. Their shooting match continued, but both teams have given it all in the past 40 minutes. Exhausted, the two teams had to dig deep, deep into their will and determination to answer the call of a championship.

With only 33 seconds left in overtime, down by two, Jeron Teng was sent to the line to shoot the most pressure-laden free throws he has ever taken in his entire basketball career and possibly tie the game.

La Salle’s final bid to win the game fell into the hands of Jeron Teng yet again. Off a drive, attacking UST’s defense, he found an open Almond Vosotros in the corner. Had it been any other day, Vosotros would have taken the three but this was not any other day. Instead, Vosotros stepped inside the arc and flipped up the shot. To the green team’s delight and Pol Medina’s dismay, the shot went in. One L.A. Revilla free throw later, UST had a chance to send it to second overtime or win it all with 8 seconds left in the clock. They found Abdul open for a three in the corner, but his shot was strong, thus ending the game and crowning the Archers champions and potentially marking the beginning of a new dynasty in the UAAP.

Review of the Keys to the Game

Continue to dominate the Rebounding, Offensive Rebounding, and Second Chance Opportunities categories!

The importance of rebounding to the Archers showed in the second quarter where they struggled the most in this game. In that quarter, UST constantly collapsed in the paint on defense. Not only did this deny drive attempts or post moves, but it also meant La Salle struggled to follow-up on missed shots. That quarter, UST out-rebounded La Salle by four and at the same time, held La Salle to only four offensive rebounds and no second chance points while they benefited from eight offensive boards though only getting two second chance points. This allowed UST to take nearly double the attempts of La Salle in that quarter, giving them the lead despite the extremely bad percentage (6 of 21).

It was in the third and fourth quarters that La Salle was able to make their run to tie the game. In both quarters, La Salle was able to out-rebound UST, giving them the advantage in second chance opportunities. While they took nearly the same number of attempts in this half, their offense is built to easily clean up after missed shots. Notice how their go-to offense involves the two post players waiting on either side of the low post and then Jeron Teng attacking from the free throw line. Rebounding their missed shots meant this arrangement was working for them and they were working through the natural flow of their offense.

In the third quarter they were able to go on a run because of rebounding. Jason Perkins gave them another go at the basket 50% of the times them missed the shot. With only 50% of La Salle’s shots missing that quarter, UST was grasping at straws in trying to stop La Salle’s offense.

Enjoying the rebounding advantage also meant that in the fourth quarter, La Salle’s sizx turnovers were off-set by the six second chance points they earned, eventually giving them enough room to tie the game.

 Defense

The stat line makes it quite unclear how to call it. On one hand, Jeric Teng and Karim Abdul combined for 50 points. On the other hand, no other Tiger made more than 7 points.

Combined, Karim Abdul and Jeric Teng had a USG% of 56.11 meaning a clear majority of the team’s offense was ran through the two of them. The fact that they scored 72% of UST’s total points is no surprise.

The problem for UST was that La Salle pinned everyone else down.

Everyone not named Teng and Abdul for UST shot no higher than 50% from the field. This meant the lack of production from usual suspects like Kevin Ferrer, Clark Bautista and yes, Aljon Mariano. With the supporting cast struggling to score, UST had nowhere to go for points except for Teng and Abdul, which hurt them toward the end.

La Salle knew they couldn’t stop Teng, but they could at least make him work for every one of his points. (Photo credit: Lloyd Labra, The La Sallian)

When tired legs and pressure started to kick in, all La Salle had to do was disrupt Teng or Abdul’s shots enough to force them to miss.

If La Salle’s gameplan was to make Teng and Abdul work while denying everyone else, it worked.

 Free Throws

Free throws played a very crucial part in this game.

In the first quarter, when La Salled (and UST) struggled to put up points from the field, the Archers won that quarter by going to the free throw line more and hitting them. In the second quarter when UST was on an onslaught forcing DLSU to take bad shots, DLSU stayed in the game by getting to the foul line, though they only made half of their attempts.

When La Salle went on their third quarter run, one big difference was that they were sent to the line six times while UST never attempted a single one. The tides turned in the fourth when UST made six free throws to La Salle’s two, but the damage had been done.

Jeron’s constant attacking of the rim drew enough fouls to keep La Salle afloat through scoring droughts. (Photo credit: Renielle Rebadomia, The La Sallian)

By the time the fourth quarter started, La Salle had already made and missed enough free throws to mark UST’s demise – the fouling out of Paulo Pe. With Pe on the bench and Abdul carrying three fouls, La Salle opened up opportunities from up close to the basket, opportunities that might now have existed had UST still had their two towers in the paint.

To seal the deal, Jeron split his free throws which gave them just enough room after UST’s turnover, to retake the lead and finally add more pressure with another set of split free throws from L.A. Revilla.

Final Thoughts

Both teams took grueling roads to get to the Finals, both of them earned their keep to be part of history. From UST’s dethroning of Ateneo, surviving three knock-out games to DLSU’s sweep of the second round and their semi-finals opponent, both teams have proven they are worthy of the UAAP crown. But in the end, it all boiled down to a difference in philosophy.

For all UST has accomplished, they have banked on one thing and one thing alone, their ability to make themselves be felt. They played rough defense, intimidating all who stood before them, and on offense they bluffed out every opponent they faced. They constantly were able to out-shine their opponents because of what I’d like to call bully-offense. Offensive rebound trickles out to Mariano? Shoot the three! Abdul gets slightly open? Charge toward the basket! Someone other than the team’s best defender is on Teng? Clear out and exploit the mismatch! They hurt opposing teams on offense because of the guts and confidence Coach Pido gives them. So many ill-advised shots have gotten them to the Ffinals like Teng’s three against NU from way outside the line. It doesn’t matter to the players whether or not a shot is meant for them, Pido’s philosophy is that if the shot feels good, take it.

De La Salle on the other hand has its system to thank for their success. Their offense uses their pieces to the fullest extent, making some players shine by simply doing what they are supposed to. Their players might not have the highest individual skill levels, but their confidence in their offense allows them to operate beyond expectation. Even when they struggled, they continued to run the same offense, put up the shot and follow through on the rebound. They liked to attack from the post, from mid-range and whenever necessary, they had enough shooters to knock it down from outside. Stick to the plan and eventually your shots will drop, this is what Coach Juno teaches his boys, and boy has it worked.

La Salle’s philosophy triumphed not because it was superior, but because it was better suited for the situation. Even after spending so much energy closing a 15-point gap, La Salle still had the legs to keep going. Yes, Teng and Perkins went down with cramps, but as long as they could walk, it did not bother them too much. Why? Shot selection.

UST’s shots constantly came from outside the arc. Anyone who plays basketball knows that your shot starts from your legs. With tired legs, even the best shooters can start to miss because at that point, you begin to doubt the amount of power you feel you’re generating as opposed to the amount of power you actually are generating.

La Salle, however, favored taking shots from inside until mid-range. From that distance, legs still play an important role but have a less tendency to affect the shot. At mid-range, you aren’t trying to generate as much power from your legs as you would with a three-pointer, this makes it a lot more accurate.

During overtime when both teams had wobbly legs, the numbers were clearly in La Salle’s favor. They knew how to get inside, they liked taking shots inside and they did get shots inside. UST may have gotten a couple of shots to go inside, but it was off scramble plays, unlike with La Salle that has been doing it all game long.

With all of De La Salle’s players still eligible to play in the coming season, UAAP fans have to ask themselves, “Is this the start of yet another dynasty?”

The answer to that is only as certain as the emotions being read from Coach Juno’s face. o_o

Coach Juno in his new pink shirt being interviewed after the game sporting what might be considered as somehow a smile. (Photo credit: Jelvin Base, The La Sallian)