By Gio Gloria
UAAP Season 81 and the first half of Season 82 have been a mixed bag of results and emotions for the Lasallian community. After having two stellar seasons with Ben Mbala (and the last year of Jeron Teng), the Green Archers had control of their Season 81 postseason destiny, but found themselves as spectators to last year’s Final Four, where the Ateneo Blue Eagles successfully clinched back-to-back titles.
Season 82 has been a breeze, as the compressed schedule forced teams to finish the first round of the season in barely under a month. In that lightning-quick first half, we’ve been treated to a tale of two DLSU Green Archer squads. The first one was tentative, trigger-happy, and turnover-prone, three T’s a winning team never wants to be associated with. The second one was aggressive, focused, and patient in looking for their shots and on defense, all of which reignited a fanbase aching to see good basketball from their team.
Whether you like them or not, DLSU has the ability to change the complexion of the Final Four this season. At 3-4, they are right in the middle of the race for a Final Four slot and winning games over the likes of the UST Growling Tigers, UP Fighting Maroons, Adamson Soaring Falcons, and the FEU Tamaraws can potentially disrupt Season 82, which has already had its fair share of cardiac games. Careful reminder as well for the others is that La Salle ended 2013 also at 3-4 and a sweep of the second round helped them claim the Season 76 Men’s Basketball championship.
With a few days left before the start of the second round, here’s a good cop/bad cop breakdown on the case for the Green Archers to make (or miss) the Final Four:
Good Cop: DLSU will make the Final Four because…
They move the ball around (and get their offense going)
La Salle’s Final Four hopes hinge on their selflessness on offense and through seven games, they lead the league in assists with 16.71 a game. In their three wins, the Green Archers have averaged 17.67 assists, which is nearly two more than their 16 assists in four losses. Although purely hypothetical, those extra assists could have spelled the difference in their one-point losses to UE and UP.
Ball movement achieves at least one of two objectives for DLSU: 1) Find the open man and 2) Move the ball around until you find the best matchup on the floor. There were moments in the season where La Salle’s slashers would drive into the paint only to kick to shooters, something that has aided the team in ending the first round shooting a league-leading 31.74 percent from behind the 3-point line. It also helps that La Salle thrives on the open court, as their league-leading 13.14 fastbreak points per game is reflected in how their top 3-point shooters in Andrei Caracut, Aljun Melecio, and Jamie Malonzo can run the break and serve as the dual threats that keep the defense guessing.
Through the first half of the season, DLSU tops the league in starter points at 53.14 points per game. Although this may come off as top-heavy to some, the Green Archers are close to having the distinction of having five players average double-figures as Encho Serrano currently averages 9.57 points per game.
They play tenacious defense (for a date with destiny)
La Salle active consultant Jermaine Byrd and head coach Gian Nazario have done at least two things that have boosted the Green Archers’ chances of barging into the Final Four: In-game adjustments and tweaking lineups depending on the matchup.
After two straight losses to UE and FEU, Byrd and Nazario inserted Joaqui Manuel into the starting lineup, opting to have Brandon Bates come off the bench. The move changed the complexion of how the team operated on both ends of the floor as what Manuel gave up with height he made up with deflecting passes, diving for loose balls, and helping run the offense through timely passes and screens. In another instance, Byrd and Nazario also played Jordan Bartlett heavy minutes against the Growling Tigers, and doing so provided him with a stabilizer on the floor who could counter the press and distribute the ball.
Another crucial move Byrd and Nazario made was to pinpoint the key offensive lynchpin of the opposing squad and take him out of his element. Against UST and Adamson, La Salle hounded Val Chauca and Soulemane Chabi Yo with a bevy of defenders and although they still managed to score points, it was usually too little and too late. Chauca may have seen the entire backcourt of the Green Archers, while La Salle took the MVP front runner out of his usual offensive rhythm by putting Malonzo and Tyrus Hill on him, countering the Beninese’s quickness and athleticism.
Bad Cop: DLSU will not make the Final Four because…
Those early losses were too much (and UAAP Season 82 is all about those close games)
The UAAP has perhaps the shortest schedule among all the top-flight collegiate leagues. Add to the fact that the league squeezed the schedule to accommodate the SEA Games in December and the season will now feel faster than saying Gomez De Liaño. With that, room for adjustments are razor-thin and errors will all the more be highlighted.
Add to the fact that DLSU is dead-last in free throw shooting at 52.59 percent and the team scouting report for the Green Archers can be summed up along the lines of this: Keep the game close, force turnovers, limit passing lanes, and make it a battle at the free throw line. In losses to ADMU, UE, UP and FEU, La Salle missed an average of nearly six free throws, some of which came during crucial moments in the game. Against the Red Warriors, DLSU actually missed two free throws, but when you look at the final score, you know it would have made all the difference in the world.
La Salle’s at their best when they strike fast and they’re off to the races, so it would be crucial to rein them in and keep them in check.
They hand out career games like flyers for condos
Rey Suerte, Brent Paraiso, and Patrick Tchuente. What do those three have in common? Well, all three had their career-best games against DLSU this season (Tchuente would later score a new career-high 21 points against the Adamson Soaring Falcons but at that point, that was his best game.). Suerte’s 31 points (and dagger) against the Green Archers was not just his career-high in points; it’s the highest scoring output so far this season.
Suerte’s explosion is not something out of the ordinary as he was a two-time CESAFI MVP and a polished scorer. Paraiso’s on the other hand came out of the blue considering he’s more of a defensive stopper and a facilitator at best on offense. In their first-round finale against the Green Archers, Paraiso posted a career-high 22 points against his former team (It honestly felt like he scored more points in this game than in his entire DLSU career) on a bevy of drives and timely 3-pointers, keeping the Growling Tigers within striking distance.
La Salle’s worst loss was perhaps against FEU, where they made a third or even fourth option on offense (Tchuente), look like the second coming of Charles Mammie (minus the baggage). Tchuente found little resistance when attacking the paint, scoring 19 points and missing only two of his 11 shot attempts. La Salle had no answer for him at both ends of the floor as Justine Baltazar, Brandon Bates, and Manuel combined for 8 points and 10 missed field goals.
DLSU will make the Final Four IF they…
(As the New England Patriots put it best), Do their job
Diskarte is perhaps the brand of basketball Filipinos live and die for. The daring drives and the unconsciously taken 3-pointers are what incite the loudest of cheers and draw the ooohs and aaaahhs from the crowd. The system Byrd and Nazario have put in preaches ball movement and although there were growing pains, things are looking up heading into the more crucial stretches of the season. There’s a lot of diskarte in what the Green Archers do but keeping it within the blueprint will spell the difference between being a spectator and a participator.