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Listless Lady Archers punished by ruthless FEU

“We competed for less than a quarter”, was Coach Tyrone Bautista’s summary. Nobody disagreed, even if the stats flattered to deceive. On paper, the Lady Archers had outrebounded their opponents, attempted more shots, more than doubled their steals, and committed fewer turnovers. Yet once FEU had gotten a grip on the game, they never looked like losing it.

La Salle’s surrender began in the second quarter when, after holding a narrow 10-8 lead from the first ten minutes, their interior defence could not contain the heft of Claire Castro and the aggressiveness of Jacqueline Tanaman. The Lady Archers were half a step slower to reach their positions and as a result played risky defence, often finding themselves off-balance and having to reach in fruitlessly. FEU’s passes found their way inside to Castro and Angelica Gabriel who racked up offensive rebounds and putbacks almost at will. And on the outside, Angel Arellado shot 60%, keeping the defence honest.

Without an inside game to build on, La Salle had to walk up its offence; by the half, they had a grand total of one fastbreak attempt, and a second-quarter output of four points. This dry spell came courtesy of a sequence of hurried shots as FEU’s longer and more committed defenders pushed Cass Santos further from her preferred spot on the elbow and limited Alyanna Ong and Jamie Roxas’ influence inside. Nicky Garcia stepped into the breach, playing the pseudo-big and grabbing seven rebounds in the first half alone but was forced into hoisting last-second three-point shots as FEU’s guards ran full interference on the shot clock.

Scoring picked up after the break as the Lady Archers pressed, but FEU forced its own share of turnovers, ending up with three times more fastbreak attempts. Camille Claro tried to push the tempo for La Salle but her four assists were scant consolation for a miserable shooting day. Jonah Melendres, who nailed five three-point shots against UP in the last game, could not find a clean look against FEU’s scrambling perimeter defence.

And yet the defending champions hung on. A high-arcing triple by Garcia cut FEU’s lead to three at the two-minute mark, but following a baseline scramble with 52 seconds to go and a look at the video, the officials called an out-of-bounds violation against Piatos. The sequence of photos above, however, shows the ball clearly coming off Lady Tamaraw Jacqueline Tanaman’s left thigh. The miscall would prove decisive as FEU’s Arellado would hit a clutch triple of her own and despite Piatos’ matching reply after a timeout, the Lady Archers would be forced to foul to stop the time. And in a bizarre re-enactment of the final play from the recent Seniors matchup, FEU would grab the rebound off a missed La Salle box-out – the story of the game in a single play.

Player of the game: Nicky Garcia: 11 points, 14 rebounds, four of four free throws, four steals, all fuelled by a runny nose. This time last year, the Adamson bench was taunting her as she shot free throws: “Box out, di naman shooter yan!” Of all the Lady Archers, she’s been under the most pressure to get the balance right this season, as her energy and aggression are needed on defence even as spitfire Piatos needs a wingman. She doesn’t always get it right, but five of her kind will beat NU.