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La Salle vs FEU Game Reaction: Back In The Saddle

After ending the eliminations with two very surprising losses and making the quarterfinals by the skin of their teeth, the De La Salle Green Archers were back in form and stormed into the semifinals of this year’s Filoil Flying V tournament with a tough yet typically methodical 94-89 win over the FEU Tamaraws.

While casual glances at the stat sheets and postgame reports will show Thomas Torres raining down on the Tamaraws with 23 points and going 7-11 from 3-point range, yesterday’s win was essentially due to the nitty gritty, fundamentally sound, and tedious little things we’ve all come to know as the Juno Sauler school of basketball.

Starting the game aggressively, establishing the inside game with good floor spacing, disciplined ball movement to find the open shooters, running the floor, communicating on defense; I could go on, but it’s really nothing more than playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played: With all the basic ingredients of team play, no fluff and sprinkled with “the purest of intentions,” as Coach Sauler wrote on a board in the team’s locker room roughly ten months ago before Game 3 of the UAAP finals.

Reminiscent of how La Salle dealt with the FEU zone during the final four of UAAP Season 76, with LA Revilla having a career game from the three-point line off good passing and floor spacing, Thomas Torres seemed out to quell apprehensions about the point guard spot with his shooting prowess.

While this team is still admittedly a work in progress, having more than a handful of newcomers in its roster and Revilla’s departure arguably leaving floor orchestration in question, the tighter rotation used against the Tamaraws has placed the Green Archers right on track as this tournament winds down. And by having Arnold Van Opstal and Jeron Teng secure the win with clutch free throws, recent concerns during the losses against Perpetual and JRU seem to be more in check rather than being a cause for alarm.

With the rebounding edge almost always dictating the fortunes of this La Salle team, yesterdays’ totals were right where they should be, 34-28, along with assists at 17. With these two departments clearly reflecting the aggressiveness of his boys and their patience in sharing the ball, I’m fairly certain Coach Sauler still can’t be happy with having turned the ball over nearly twice as much as the Tamaraws, 12-7.

After all, this is a man who has become famous for relentlessly seeking out ways to improve and aspects to fine-tune, simply replying “Too many turnovers” when asked to comment on the stellar play of Jason Perkins after one of the second round elimination games right in the middle of their incredible streak in last year’s UAAP tournament. And even sticking to his mantra on unceasing improvement in the midst of all the confetti and revelry, merely minutes after winning it all.

There’s also no tiptoeing around the fact that after pulling ahead by as much 12, FEU managed to grab the lead, 87-86, with a little over a minute left in the game. I’ve found it equally amusing and unsettling how the word “”meltdown,” once so ubiquitous during the first round of UAAP season 76 when pertaining to this La Salle team, has once again reared its head.

But after losing to the perpetual Help Altas on Monday after leading by as much as 20, and ever so briefly giving up the lead to the Tamaraws, one has to face the fact that with the higher standards placed on this La Salle team, everything becomes exacerbated. And rightfully so. Every loss a slight cause for alarm, every win by almost any other team turning into a literal David and Goliath story. Case in point, Aric del Rosario shedding tears of joy after Monday’s game against La Salle, and the JRU Heavy Bombers celebrating championship-style after their elimination round win against the Green Archers on May 10.

I am not mocking those team’s achievements against the Green Archers. Far from it. As UE Coach Derek Pumaren told his boys in a late game huddle on opening day, a win against this La Salle team will do wonders for their morale. Or as FEU coach Nash Racela explicitly puts it, La Salle is the barometer against which their own team is measured.

With a community reared to never settle for less than excellence in all endeavors, we ourselves set the bar high for the team we rabidly support. And in the middle of subtle insinuations that the Green Archers tend to take certain teams lightly, or even tend to fall back into the bad habit of relinquishing leads (and let’s not forget free show shooting of course), the one thing of which I’m certain is that this entire team, from the last player on the bench to the entire coaching staff, is fully aware of the community they represent each time they step on the hardcourt.

All the while still setting their own high standards for themselves: striving to perfect Coach Sauler’s system that has brought La Salle basketball back to glory.

Juno Sauler

Because while some may be of two minds regarding experimenting with new rotations, new players still being tested, and a roster of players that will definitely be trimmed down for UAAP season 77, all in light of being in a tournament where preparations for the respective mother leagues and where a championship for one’s alma mater are both equally at stake, Coach Sauler knows that making winning a habit is second to none.

And so while rotations may differ as the stakes get higher, with only Julian Sargent and Prince Rivero getting minutes among the newcomers in yesterday’s game—resulting in a familiar balanced attack with five players ending up scoring 10 or more— order has been restored in the world of Green and White as Coach Sauler and his boys find themselves in the final four of the Filoil tournament, with each team representing a different collegiate hoops league.

The only thing harder than making it to the top is staying there, with all the other teams bringing extra juice in their games against La Salle. Most especially would-be rivals Southwestern University, brazen and bolstered by their showing in the recent PCCL, with a final four win against the Green Archers and putting up a good fight before being swept in the finals.

With a healthy number of supporters always in tow providing loud and lively support, the SWU Cobras are playing for pride as they face La Salle in tomorrow’s knockout seminfinals match; pride that they themselves admit transcends representing their alma mater.

As for Coach Sauler and his boys, with a system that strives for excellence and playing the game the right way, and a community that expects just as much, the narrative is much simpler and less melodramatic—albeit more painstaking—than a mere David and Goliath storyline: generating a winning tradition one game at a time, one tournament at a time.