This is an exciting race to the Final Four, isn’t it?
The second place Adamson Soaring Falcons takes on the sixth place De La Salle Green Archers this Wednesday as the action shifts to the historic Smart-Araneta Coliseum. Now, I did used the terms “second place” and “sixth place’ on purpose. Adamson is tied with UST in second place while La Salle is solo in the sixth place, just half a game ahead of rival, Ateneo. But this is not the typical second place versus sixth place game. La Salle, at 2-3, is just one game behind the 3-2 Falcons and the Archers can tie the Falcons with a crucial win this Wednesday.
FEU just pulled away at 6-0 while UP is still winless at 0-5. The rest of the teams – UST, Adamson, UE, NU, De La Salle and Ateneo – are all just a few games away from one another, battling for the coveted Final Four slots.
La Salle is coming off another heartbreaking loss, this time at the hands of the UE Red Warriors. The Archers failed to sustain the momentum of the emotional victory over rivals Ateneo as La Salle blew double-digit fourth quarter leads in their last two games, leading to a two-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Falcons are on a high as they defeated the NU Bulldogs 68-66 during their last game. La Salle defeated Adamson twice last season, but Adamson improved a lot compared to their disappointing record last year.
Before the season started, many of the so-called experts claimed that the Archers are Final Four bound, while the Falcons, though they can compete, might fall as far as seventh place. Toby, our Adamsonian colleague here in Humble Bola, even predicted that Adamson can go as high as 9-5. When I read that, I figured he was just being a loyal fan. But with the inspired plays of Jericho Cruz, Rodney Brondial and Ingrid Sewa, the Falcons are showing that they are indeed Final Four material.
Keys to the Game
1. Stop Jericho Cruz
Last game, it was stop Roi Sumang – and a huge X-mark if I may add. This time, La Salle will face another talented guard in Jericho Cruz. Cruz exploded with 18 points during their win against NU. Oda Tampus played good defense against Roi Sumang during the first half of their game against UE, then Tampus was benched during the second half and Sumang exploded. Perhaps, Tampus can get more playing time for this game, and his role will be to limit Cruz.
2. Stop Ingrid Sewa
DLSU faced Charles Mammie last Saturday. Mammie had a monster performance of 19 points and 16 rebounds. This Wednesday, they will face another strong import in Ingrid Sewa. Though he just scored six points in their win against NU, Sewa grabbed 13 rebounds during that game. Sewa can register a double-double performance so it is up to the big guys of La Salle like Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres and Jason Perkins to contain him. And who knows, maybe Matt Salem can hit a couple of three pointers that will force Sewa to play in the outside. Salem is a stretch four that La Salle can use for some variation in their offensive patterns.
3. Play consistent for forty minutes.
This is starting to be a generic key to the game for my La Salle pre-game articles. For the last two games, La Salle played well for 37 minutes or so then collapsed during crunch time. La Salle does not want a choker tag, right? La Salle should prove to everyone that they can beat the higher-ranked teams. Mental toughness and proper time management are important during the end game. La Salle should be mentally prepared for 40 minutes in order to beat a strong team like Adamson.
4. FREE THROWS
And of course, my generic La Salle pre-game key: FREE THROWS!!! La Salle shot a horrible 3/11 from the line last Saturday. You can’t win close games if you can’t make your free throws. Again, this is about mental toughness. The good news is that the last time La Salle played a weekday game, La Salle shot well from the free throw line, that was against UP during the earlier part of the first round.
So, what is the relation of a weekday game and free throws? There are fewer people in the crowd during weekdays. Fewer people, less pressure! I am starting too think that it was no coincidence that the only game that La Salle shot well on the line was when there was only a few thousands of us watching, instead of the tens of thousands of UAAP fans who flock the weekend games.
I read in an article of Tony Atayde that when he interviewed Lady Archer Coach Tyrone Bautista, Bautista said that the Lady Archers don’t have that problem because there are fewer people watching women’s basketball. I know that this is not exactly a deep statistical analysis, especially compared to my stat-oriented colleagues here in Humble Bola, but if La Salle makes their free throws this Wednesday in front of a few thousand fans then make around only 50% in front of a big crowd this Sunday against NU, maybe we can say that La Salle’s free throw woes are indeed related to the loudness and the pressure of the crowd.
Or maybe, can Allan Caidic take the free throws instead? Or maybe Jeric can shoot for his brother? Or can we pick random former Archers in the crowd to shoot free throws? Please?
The first round is about to end. How time flies, right? La Salle is in the middle of things together with six other teams as only a few games separates the second to seventh spots. With the FIBA-Asia break upon us, teams are looking to build momentum going to the second round. The La Salle community is hoping that the Archers learned from the meltdown of the two previous games. I predict another nail biter. My prediction? I think La Salle will finally show some mental toughness and avoid an end game collapse.