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La Salle vs FEU Game Reaction: The Green Machine

green archers 12102013
Photo by Aretha Angcao

With FEU up by 4 with four minutes left in the first quarter, a timeout by an obviously irked Coach Juno Sauler resulted in only the second, and last, lead change of the game, a 13-0 run, and leads that reached as high as 30, reintroducing us to the lean mean hoops machine we’ve all come to respect and admire.

And reminding us that when any talk about the best college basketball team comes up, the De La Salle Green Archers will always make a strong case for setting the standard for years to come.

Whatever it was that made the SWU Cobras pull off that overtime win over the current UAAP champions– rust, unfamiliarity with new rotations, the absence of Arnold Van Opstal or just really a bad day in a scorching gym– I could see as early as the player introductions that Coach Sauler’s boys had shaken it off and were about to bring the fire I saw in their eyes and body language onto the hardcourt.

The FEU Tamaraws were never really in this one, as all the intensity and aggressiveness we expect from a championship team playing for a proud institution were there right off the bat.

And as always, it showed us a La Salle team playing to one of its most reliable strengths: the inside dominance in controlling the boards. Every single missed shot was fought for, not just by tapping at it or scrambling for it, but with all five players at any given time boxing out and gang rebounding, resulting in a 58-40 rebounding edge.

La Salle’s shot selection off good ball rotation was also nearly impeccable, as the team’s three-point shooting percentage leaped from 18.8% to 50% compared to Monday’s game, field goal shooting from 26.1% to 40%, and assists from 9 to 17. All helped with some prodding from Coach Sauler at the 7:50 mark in the first quarter, always being a teacher first, getting up and pacing the sidelines and lecturing to his boys on the bench when something on the court goes awry.

This particular lesson? Just because your man gives you the shot, it doesn’t mean you have to take it all the time. Or something  like that.

The multi-headed offense was also back in action, as every single player was fielded in, and every single one breaking into the scoring column, just like in that game against the Cobras. But this time, with disciplined passing and ball rotation, Matt Salem was allowed to shine and lead the way for the Green Archers with 17 points, 3-4 three point shots and 77.8% field goal shooting.

But I am much more pleased with the performance of Robert Bolick, who ended up with 10 points on 66.6% shooting, highlighted by back to back corner triples. After having a not so stellar debut in the UAAP, Bolick never lost trust in the system and in his coach, always happy to be cheering from the sidelines, being the first one off the bench to encourage his teammates during every timeout, waiting for his time to come. After those three point shots I could see so much confidence in his step, even taking the ball from one end of the court to the next and driving hard to the basket.

Bolick’s potential, though largely unnoticed, has always been scary and ingrained in my mind ever since I saw him beat Coach Allan Caidic in an informal three-point shootout before one team practice started during that extended break in between rounds of the recent UAAP basketball tournament. Believe me when I say I’ve been waiting so long to tell that story. I feel relieved that I finally have.

But what is even scarier is how the pace for yesterday’s game set by the Green Archers seemed so familiar: wasting no time in pushing the ball after every rebound and even after made shots by FEU. The last time I saw this was during the first round of the UAAP when the team was still trying to grasp Coach Sauler’s system, before it settled into the championship machine we all saw late in the second round.

With new combinations on the floor constantly being tested, plus a few tricks and players I am fairly certain we have to wait until the next tournament to witness, for the Green Archers to handily beat a competitive FEU team should strike fear in all future opponents. Because that wasn’t even Coach Sauler’s unit at its best. And just as much as I was fully in during the colorful 76th basketball season of the UAAP, like everyone else I’m happy to be along for this next dance as well.

Saying all that, tomorrow’s knockout game between NCAA champions San Beda ought to be as good as advertised, and inevitably will be used and billed by most to measure one champion’s mettle against the other’s.

But for Coach Sauler, it will just be another game providing opportunities to improve on the last one. Sound familiar? After all that is what has always been the fuel for this La Salle championship machine. The quest for the perfect game continues.

Boxscores

DLSU (80) – Salem 17, Teng 13, Vosotros 11, Bollick 10, N. Torres 6, Tampus 5, Perkins 4, Reyes 4, T. Torres 3, Dela Paz 3, Montalbo 2, Van Opstal 2

FEU (60) – Pogoy 14, Mendoza 14, Hargrove 12, Jose 7, Cruz 6, Tolomia 4, Luz 2, Aguilon 1, Lee Yu 0, Iñigo 0, Dennison 0, Delfinado 0, Sentcheu 0

Quarterscores: 21-16, 49-31, 67-41, 80-60