Two teams in the middle of the pack will try to improve their standings as the De La Salle Green Archers take on the University of the East Red Warriors this Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena. In their last game, La Salle blew a 12-point lead during the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter as they fell to FEU in overtime, 83-79 and subsequently fell to 2-2 record. After dropping three out of their first four games, the UE Warriors bounced backed big time as they defeated the five-time defending champions Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles, 72-68, last Wednesday to improve to 2-3. We are nearing the end of the first round of eliminations. FEU separated themselves from the rest of the pack while La Salle, NU,UST, Adamson and UE are fighting for playoff slots. Every game is crucial and in order to make it to the Final 4, you need a good record against the teams competing for a Final 4 slot.

Stop Sumang! (Photo Credit: ph.sports.yahoo.com)

Stop Sumang! (Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports PH)

La Salle defeated UE twice last season. During the Fil-Oil Cup, UE defeated La Salle 60-53 to end La Salle’s then undefeated 5-0 run during the summer. That was the turning point of their preseason. After that, La Salle lost to Ateneo then San Beda eliminated La Salle in the quarterfinals. For UE, they went all the way to the finals and defeated the NU Bulldogs for the crown. All of a sudden, the experts who claimed that La Salle are title contenders said they would be lucky to make it to the Final Four, and UE is now considered as one of the title contenders. But as we quickly learned during the start of the UAAP tournament, the preseason is just like that, the preseason. Now La Salle and UE are in the middle of the pack, not a comfortable place in a tightly contested tournament, making this Saturday showdown a must-watch match for the fans and must-win game for the players.

Keys to the Game

Stop Roi Sumang

I think this is a generic key for every game against UE. And it is true. Roi Sumang is the King Red Warrior and  the heart and the soul of the team from Recto. Who can ever forget his dramatic game winning four-point play over reigning two-time MVP Bobby Ray Parks in their win against NU? Can Sumang’s “hero-ball” antics carry UE back to the Final Four? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is for sure, UE is exciting to watch thanks to this flashy point guard. So stop Sumang and things will be fine. La Salle is loaded with quality guards and the boys from Taft can use this as an advantage to tire out Sumang. Almond Vosotros, LA Revilla and Thomas Torres will alternate in defending Sumang and when La Salle is in the offensive, it is up to this guards to tire Sumang out. UE is a good team but they are not as deep as La Salle, especially in the guard positions, and a fatigued Sumang is bad news for the Red Warriors.

La Salle should play consistent for 40 minutes.

With the exception of the UP game, La Salle has been inconsistent this season. Started slow against UST and Ateneo, ended miserably against FEU. La Salle is good enough to go all the way, but given the parity of the league, there is also a slight chance they might miss the Final 4 bus. If La Salle wants to make it back to the Final 4, they should be consistent for the whole duration of the game.

FREE THROWS

This is my generic key of the game for La Salle. Maybe assistant coach Allan Caidic can take the free throws. Or maybe, Jeric Teng can shoot the free throws for his younger brother Jeron. This is more mental than physical. AVO is La Salle’s best free throw shooter. He is confident and his stroke (read: combing his hair) routine is consistent, and you need confidence and consistency in making free throws. I actually would have wanted the Archers, especially Jeron, to shoot free throws at Mall of Asia Arena after the game last Saturday. I hope La Salle can shoot at least 70% of its free throws with Jeron making at least 60% this Saturday.

Prediction

This will be another close game. I don’t expect any blowout La Salle game for the remainder of this round. If La Salle can be consistent for 40 minutes and make their free throws, La Salle can win this one. Jeron Teng would love to bounce back after a poor free throw shooting performance. Arnold Van Awesome should wear his pink shoes. I expect AVO to have another monster performance. I also expect another double-double performance for Jason Perkins. And finally, I am hopeful that the Bear, Norbert Torres, will have a good game. La Salle will win this one.