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La Salle vs UST Finals Game 1 Pregame: Looking to draw first blood

jeron teng

So, after fourteen years, La Salle and UST will slug it out once more for the UAAP men’s basketball’s Holy Grail. Since the last finals meeting of the two teams in 1999, La Salle has won four men’s basketball titles (2000, 2001, 2004, and 2007) while UST has won one in 2006. I am still including the 2004 title since it was won on the hard court.

This season, both teams split its elimination round meetings. In the opening game of the men’s basketball tournament last June 29, 2013, UST edged out a La Salle side that was still finding its identity via overtime, 63-58. The streaking Green Archers, on the other hand got back at the Growling Tigers last September 14, 2013, 69-64 to force a three way tie at the top of the standings with a 10-4 win-loss record.

So in two elimination round games, there were two different stories for each team, and eventually, there were two different outcomes for both teams. It will be very difficult to gauge how these two will perform in the finals series giving that in a span of weeks or even months from the first time these two teams met this season, there were evident changes that can be seen on the on-court demeanor of the two teams.

For starters, let’s take a look on how the numbers lie on the two teams’ Season 76 elimination round match up averages. As seen on the table below, the Green Archers get their advantage from three-point baskets, rebounds, bench scoring, turnover points, perimeter points, and second chance points. It is pretty much even in the two-point field goal percentage, total field goal percentage, steals, blocks, and in the points in the paint category. The Growling Tigers have the advantage on the following categories: free throw percentage, assists, starters scoring, and fastbreak points.

head-to-head stats

Now it is time to discuss the persons that will let the action run in this series.  I have divided the discussion into three categories namely the backcourt, the wings, and frontline.

La Revilla

Backcourt:

DLSU – LA Revilla, Thomas Torres, and Kib Montalbo

UST – Ed Daquioag and Sheak Sheriff

I am giving the advantage here to the Archers since all three point guards and court generals of the Green Archers are indeed legit point guards who can set up the table, drive, dish, shoot, and create shots if necessary.  For UST, Sheriff has been playing superb so far in the last stretches of games for the Growling Tigers but the problem is that he cannot play for 40 minutes manning the point guard position for UST.

It will be either Ed Daquioag or Clark Bautista that will be given the task bringing the ball up and make decision-making on UST’s half-court offense sets.  In the past UST games, the task was given to Daquioag, who for me is a natural wing guy.  Yes, Ed can bring down and handle the rock but the question will be, can he set up efficiently UST’s half court sets enabling his wings and front men to get the ball in the right position for good scoring opportunities?

For La Salle, LA Revilla’s form has been stellar as well towards the end of the second round until the two Final Four games against his star-studded counterparts from FEU, RR Garcia and league MVP Terrence Romeo.  If this continues in the finals, this will pose problems for the Growling Tigers as Sheriff will have to play better than how he outplayed Gelo Alolino in their Final Four series against NU.  Thomas Torres and Kib Montalbo are also no slouch either.  Both can also play well manning the point guard position for the Green Archers.

Almond Vosotros

Wings:

DLSU – Almond Vosotros, Jeron Teng, Gabby Reyes, Oda Tampus, and Luigi Dela Paz

UST – Clark Bautista, Jeric Teng, and Kevin Ferrer

This position will definitely involve a lot of talk.  Kevin Ferrer has been a revelation in the Final Four, doing it in both ends of the floor scoring big buckets and defending at the same time probably the best wing player in the league in Bobby Ray Parks.  The question now is, can he do the same to Jeron Teng, whom for me is more bulky than Parks but a bit slower compared to RayRay.  Jeron is your typical small forward who likes to take it inside, knows how to get the contact, and is not afraid of body contact.  Can Kevin Ferrer stand the physicality?

I mean, yes he took it to Parks in their Final Four series against NU but as we all know, Bobby Ray tends to shy away when he is being played physical by his defender.  The case is different with Jeron Teng this time around so it will be interesting to see how Coach Pido will play around on this one.  It has been always an option to send older brother Jeric to match up physically to Jeron but it may sacrifice a little bit just in case Jeric gets into foul trouble as Jeric is UST’s primary option on offense.

With Sheriff given the point guard duties and playing well at the same time, it seemed that Clark Bautista has been re-energized and found his shooting stroke once again.  It is because at the moment he can concentrate on his shooting and he can just run around all the screens and picks given to him.  This is the reason why La Salle’s defense will be important on Sheriff because if Sheriff does not play well in this series, Clark will be forced to play the point guard position and we all know he is not comfortable in this role, it will be one less scoring to worry for the Green Archers from the wings.

Jeric will be Jeric.  He will do his arsenal of offensive moves against probably Almond but the key will be La Salle’s help defense making Jeric think where the help will come from, thus not making him comfortable putting the ball on the floor and making his attack.  Also expect the Green Archers to be prepared when Jeric decides to post up Almond at the post just like what other teams do on defense La Salle’s primary outside threat.  It will be big also if Almond’s shooting stroke comes back to help the Green Archers in this season’s finals campaign.

Arnold Van Opstal

Frontline:

DLSU – Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, Jason Perkins, and Matt Salem

UST – Karim Abdul, Aljon Mariano, Paulo Pe, Kim Lo, Jeepy Faundo

I guess most are giving this department to La Salle.  Personally, this is also a tough one to call.  When Karim Abdul is on his right frame of mind, he’s one skilled big man to handle on defense.  Sometimes, defenses collapse unconsciously leaving UST shooters on the perimeter launching long bombs to kill the opposition.  Paulo Pe has to be commended on his defense on Emmanuel Mbe in their Final Four, giving more than enough breathing room for Abdul to recover from the bench, getting back in the ball game with better gears to last in the ball game.

For sure, La Salle will keep on pounding in the interior and putting UST bigs in foul trouble will be a job well done for the Green Archers because it would mean that Kevin Ferrer who normally plays small forward has to adjust and play power forward to try and defend either Torres or Perkins inside the paint.  I placed Mariano in this category simple because he is always being matched up with Perkins as UST’s power forward.  As sleek as Perkins, Mariano can also create shots on his own and can possibly put Perkins into foul trouble.

The key here is Perkins being able to manage himself in committing silly fouls which will put him into foul trouble.  Matt Salem’s role will also be crucial in spelling Perkins’ bench time.  If Salem can find space and convert those threes, it will be a lot easier for Arnold or Norbert to impose them inside the shaded lane, an area where La Salle has indeed an advantage height-wise.  This is not just on low post points, but also second chance opportunities via put backs.

Outside of Abdul and Mariano, Pe, Lo, and Faundo are not expected to contribute that much on offense but La Salle’s defense has to be wary since it will be not good if those three players will still be able to score and contribute on offense.  It will be better to keep Pe, Lo, and Faundo as defensive players for UST.  Mariano is the most all-around frontman scorer of the Growling Tigers and I only see Perkins matching up well on Mariano on both facing up or backing down low.

Much has been said about height advantage, bench depth, and finals experience to be the factors that will be considered heavily as to which team will win the men’s basketball title this season.  But honestly, my personal take is that whichever team wants it more will be the one to win the game.  It will all boil down to hustle, energy, and effort, those intangibles that sometimes overlooked but when actual game time comes, those are the things that you will hear from coaches during time out huddles.

Whichever team pulls out that small inch needed in order to accomplish something big on the court will most probably deliver the killing and most painful blow to its opponent.  This could come from a loose ball rebound, a crucial steal, a very eventful unforced turnover, a wide-open putback since no one boxed out his man, a wide-open jumper from someone who does not shoot regularly from the perimeter or from the three, a gutsy dive onto the floor paving way for a crucial fastbreak lay-up, those magical moments that will forever be stuck in the supporters and spectators’ minds and lives.

The finals are always about unforgettable moments and I expect these two teams to give out a show tomorrow and maybe possibly until next week, giving its students, alumni, faculty, community, and supporters something to reminisce let’s say ten years down the road.  I am happy that the Green Archers reached this far this season and I am praying for some more.  Two more wins that will cement the team in the UAAP men’s basketball record books but more importantly, to cement themselves in De La Salle University’s historic basketball lore.