The Season 82 Green Archers finally emerged into full view as they debuted against the defending champions Ateneo last Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum. Unfortunately, they failed to sustain a promising start, and fell to the heavily favored Blue Eagles, 69-81.
Coming off a major team revamp involving both the coaches and players, the Green Archers prepared for the season in relative obscurity, surfacing only for the Fil-Oil tournament and a pocket tournament in Davao. With so much fluidity in the lineup leading to the opening of the UAAP, the green-and-white were an unknown quantity to the La Salle supporters and opponents alike.
The Archers had a promising start, allowing Ateneo to take an early 7-point lead but staying close. Team Captain Caracut showed his determination to live up to his responsibility by taking charge of the early scoring, and the quarter ended 21-23.
Then the second quarter buzzer sounded. Ateneo started edging away behind their usual effective high screen plays to free up the ball handler. Some confusion with coverage led to several wide-open incursions. Sophomore import Kouame made his presence felt on defense, foiling drives by our players while controlling the boards.
The momentarily shell-shocked Archers coughed up 21 points in that stretch while managing a solitary point. The 2nd quarter massacre ended with the score at 29-51, with a huge 28-8 disparity in scoring. The halftime break was a relief.
The respite allowed the team to regroup, and they came out with a different mindset.
Staying mainly with a zone defense, the Archer defense started switching on the screens and closely marked any Ateneo big near the paint, preventing the open shots which the Blue Eagles capitalized on in the first half. With their standard sets not working, the Blue Eagles leaned on individual contributions of different players to stay ahead, but saw their 22 point advantage shrink to 16 at the end of the 3rd, 50-66. The quarter saw La Salle outscore the Eagles, 21-15.
In the 4th, the Green Archers tried several rallies, and even managed to cut the lead down to single digits, but Ateneo had an answer every time. Mamuyac hit a pair of clutch shots at the end to finally silence any hopes for an upset. Again, the Green Archers outdid their blue counterparts, 19-15, but it was a case of too little, too late.
Half of the Green Archers’ lineup were newcomers: Fil-Ams Jamie Malonzo, Keys Meeker, and James Pado, transferees Jordan Bartlett, Kurt Lojera and Tyrus Hill, plus Greenie Joel Cagulangan and Ralph Cu. Malonzo topscored with 18 points coming from a pair of treys, topped off with a highlight slam against Thirdy Ravena. Caracut and Justine Baltazar chipped in 14 and 10 points, both shooting efficiently at a 5/11 clip. Encho Serrano provided some interesting scoring with 8 points, but was only 4/13, while Kurt Lojera tallied 6 points in an efficient 3 out of 4 shooting performance in only 12 minutes. Aljun Melecio contributed 7, and Joaqui Manuel filled in the scoring with 6.
What hurt the Green Archers the most was their ability to keep Ateneo away from the boards. The Blue Eagles came away with 27 offensive rebounds, many of them on 50-50 balls, and hauling down a total of 60 caroms against our total of 51 rebounds.
The first half defense was also pretty shaky, with the Archers entering penalty in both quarters, gifting Ateneo with double digit freebies from the line. Ateneo made 20/22 of their free throws. You can’t foul this team and get away with it.
The Green Archers coughed up the ball 18 times, many of the miscues coming from errant passes, reflecting the work-in-progress nature of their teamwork. Foul shooting continued to be a bane on the Green team as they made only 4 out of their 8 fts.
The Green Archer defense was resuscitated in the second half, clogging up the Ateneo offensive thrusts and forcing them to rely on individual talents. The proof? Ateneo, which had been playing together under one system for the past 3 years, had but 15 assists. The defense also made Ateneo shoot pretty poorly, 28/86 field goal shooting (33%).
While we don’t have anyone as tall as the imports of the other teams, our front line is pretty tall, with Malonzo, Baltazar, Manuel, Bates, Cu, Hill, and Pado all standing 6’3 or taller. That allowed us to stay competitive on the boards in the second half.
In other stats, we were more or less at par with Ateneo (our stats first): FG 29/39 (37%) vs 28/86 (33%), 3pointers 7/26 (27%) vs 5/32 (16%), 2pointers 22/53 (42%) vs 23/54 (43%), steals 7 vs 5, assists 21 to the 15 of Ateneo.
The free throw disparity made all the difference: 4/8 vs 20/22. We committed more fouls 22 to 13, and this gave them more trips to the stripe, where they are very good. The lesson here is to be more accurate with defensive assignments and avoid unnecessary fouls on opponents not in scoring position.
All things considered, while the result is not that desirable considering we lost to Ateneo, the team gave a good account of itself in the first, third, and fourth quarters. The damage caused by the second quarter meltdown was just too much to overcome.
The lessons were delivered early in the season, and that helps the team because they will learn from what they did wrong. And they did get to scout the championship favourite.
We go up against dangerous NU tomorrow, Wednesday at 12:30 noon at the Araneta Coliseum. NU lost a heartbreaker, 83-84 to Adamson at the buzzer in overtime after leading for much of the game. But they proved to be a dangerous team against NU, losing out only because of a last-gasp trey by the ADU import. The Ildefonso brothers will be a handful, and their guards can also be a threat.
However, we have the height advantage against the Bulldogs. What remains to be seen is how the lessons of last Sunday are applied in the game.