In their previous three games, La Salle were able to erect a huge double-digit fourth quarter lead. Then their opponents would make a late run for a nail-biting finish. However, the game against National University Bulldogs did not follow that script. The Bulldogs controlled the game from start to finish as they defeated the De La Salle Green Archers, 63-56, on the last game of the first round of UAAP Season 76.
With the loss, the Archers drop to 3-4, one game behind second place. It is the first time ever that the Archers ended the first round with a losing record. Even during the “dark years” of 2009 and 2011 when they failed to make it to the Final Four, the Green Archers ended the first round with a 4-3 record.
NU started the game strong and led 20-9 to end the first quarter. Thanks to seven big second quarter points from Arnold Van Opstal, the Archers were able to rally, but a big push by NU to end the half ended with a 33-25 lead for the Bulldogs. La Salle would unleash another rally in the third quarter, thanks to three triples by Almond Vosotros as the third quarter ended with a slim 43-42 advantage for NU.
The stage is set. La Salle can take the lead, control the game, and get win number four, right? However, the Bulldogs started the fourth quarter strong and never looked back. Unlike in the previous games where La Salle would put a double-digit fourth quarter lead, it was the other way around this time. NU controlled most of the fourth quarter; building a double-digit lead as La Salle just can’t buy a basket. A late rally by the Archers, thanks to AVO’s post moves and a late triple by Thomas Torres, made the score respectable, but it was a case of too little too late.
Reviewing the Keys to the Game
1. Limit Bobby Ray Parks
A huge X mark as Parks had 20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three steals, fantasy-like numbers from the reigning back-to-back MVP. Jeron had a hard time containing Parks. Last year, we were treated to a Parks-Jeron scoring showdown. But this time, Parks just simply dominated him. I expect Jeron to bounce back in the second round and hopefully, he and Parks will cancel each other out.
2. Stop Emmanuel Mbe
A check mark for this one. Yes, Mbe did score a decent 12 points but he only grabbed six rebounds, with no blocks. AVO dominated him in the post. Mbe also tried to posterize AVO, but he failed. He only shot 6/15 from the field. NU needs a consistent Mbe, and a good supporting cast, in the second round if they want to make it to the Final Four.
3. Play consistent for 40 minutes
Another X mark. La Salle would make rallies here and there but NU pretty much controlled the entire game. This is the worse game of La Salle this season so far.
4.) FREE THROWS!
It’s a miracle! YES! YES! YES! La Salle shot a very high 11/13 from the line. Unfortunately, they only went to the line 13 times. It shows that the Archers were not aggressive enough. In the second round, I am hoping for a 16/20 or 25/30 charity stripe performances by them.
Jeron Teng vs Jeoff Javillonar
The matchup that never happened. Javillonar only played a few minutes and he did not score a single point. Though Coach Eric Altamirano said that it was because of matchups, and not because of the Teng family. One this is for sure, the UST versus NU second round match is a must see, especially if Jeric Teng is healthy by that time.
Free throws! La Salle shot 11/13 from the line, the first time La Salle shot well from the charity stripe during a weekend game. AVO led the way with 6/7 free throws while Jeron Teng only missed one free throw. AVO is the lone bright spot for DLSU as he scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and he also contributed three blocks. His footwork is a thing of beauty. AVO is the best “local” big man in the UAAP and La Salle should utilize him more in the second round if they want to make it to the Final Four. Special mention also goes to Matt Salem for playing quality minutes, scoring five points in just four minutes of action. He shot 2/2 from the line and he made a three-pointer. So far, Salem is perfect this season from the rainbow area, making all of his three attempts from downtown. I expect him to play more minutes in the second round and stretch the defense of the opponents.
Nico Baguio always mentions in his articles how much he loves three pointers. I don’t love three pointers as much as he does. As I said several times in my previous articles, three pointers are like pretty girls, easy to fall in love with but it can easily break your heart as well. La Salle shot only 5/20 from the three-point region. Sure “Vosotres” got hot during the third quarter, making three triples and ending the game with a good 33% from the three- point line but aside from that, he struggled from the field all day long as he only shot 4/14 from the field. Also, for the first time this season, Jeron Teng failed to score in double-figures, as he only scored nine points. He was saddled with foul trouble during the first half and never got his rhythm. Instead of jacking up outside shot after outside shot or relying on isolation plays, La Salle should go to AVO in the post more often. Even the imports had a hard time containing him this season.
A pessimist would say that La Salle is in seventh place. An optimist would say that La Salle is just one game behind second place. I am the kind of person who looks at the glass half-full. Am I disappointed with a 3-4 record? Sure I am. But if someone told me before the season started that La Salle would just be a game behind second place after the first round, I would be fine with that. Next game for the Green Archers is against Adamson this August 14. All games are now crucial and every game is a must win. The two- week break will help most teams; I think FEU is the only one that will not benefit from this break because it might halt some of their momentum. Superstars such as Kiefer Ravena and Jeric Teng can get some rest and hopefully be 100% by the start of the second round. And for La Salle, this two-week break is helpful as it can help the team recharge and reflect. It is a young team with a new head coach. I still believe La Salle can make it to the Final Four and I am confident that most La Salle fans feel the same way. I hope the Archers can find it in their hearts to believe in themselves, the same way we believe in them.