Lady Archers cruise to season double over Ateneo

By Absolut Verde

La Salle 53
Ateneo 37

Blue Eagle Gym – Their eyes are on a bigger prize, but in five years at the helm, Coach Tyrone Bautista has never been shy about letting his players know: this fixture matters. And perhaps this particular edition more than the others. For unless the Lady Eagles and their boatload of coaches find a passage north to the Final Four, we may have just seen Miller Ong, Cass Santos, Niky Scott, Nicky Garcia, Inna Corcuera, and Trisha Piatos, the six graduating seniors of this champion squad, play their last match against Ateneo.

There was little room for sentiment though before tipoff. The Lady Archers have had to navigate rough shoals midseason, following consecutive defeats to National and Adamson, and the starting lineup bore the marks of a team re-setting its course. It was a shooter’s lineup, with Piatos, Santos and Jonah Melendres starting, along with Miller Ong and rookie Martina Lumba. Ateneo played a gambit as well, choosing to have chief scorer Danica Jose come off the bench.

The reckoning was swift. Without an inside threat and too slow to swing the ball outside, the Lady Eagles could not cope with La Salle’s swarming defence. And on the other end, Cass Santos would punish Ateneo’s slack rotation with nonchalant but unerring perimeter shots. This time there would be no tantalising prospect of an upset. The Lady Archers came to work and when they do, rebounding and taking care of the ball, quarters tend to end, as this one did, 14-2.

Ateneo would respond with mini-runs in the next twenty minutes, the first when Akiko Tomita scored three straight baskets to open the second quarter, and after the half when Ateneo would put together a 17-point third quarter care of Jose and Caramia Buendia’s work in the paint. Neither insurrection would dent La Salle’s lead. Santos would shoot an astonishing 83% in the first half, backed up Garcia’s hustle (and Scott’s cheeky hat-trick of fouls), while in the second half, Piatos would find a solution to her early-game shooting woes: take two steps back and launch those threes from pro distance.

But the luxury of outside attempts first demands a tribute in defence. Today the Lady Archers remained diligent despite the early lead, ending up dead even on rebounds with Ateneo but forcing ten more turnovers. To this they added a sharpness on offence not seen since the FEU game: eighteen assists (to Ateneo’s nine) and a second half played with a mere four turnovers.

Every match lasts forty minutes, but for La Salle’s coach and players, this one ended too soon. With three minutes to go and victory imminent, Bautista continued directing the press. And coming into a huddle following her coup de grace of a triple, Camille Claro was met by her teammate Piatos’ fixed stare and pumping fist, demanding yet more defensive focus: we are not done yet. If she is wise, the youngster will heed. One day it will be her team. And it will follow a golden generation of Lady Archers that not only brought the crown back to Taft after more than a decade, but in five years and in all competitions, only ever lost to Ateneo once.

Player of the game: Cass Santos, whose 14 points on seven of ten shooting and seven rebounds continues an ascendancy in play from the UST game, and is a testament to the strength of character that allowed her to return from a knee injury months ahead of schedule.

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