Part 9: The 2K Decade Recap – 2008
With the departure of TY Tang and Cholo Villanueva, two of their vital cogs in their championship run in the previous season, the Green Archers were hard-pressed to retain the championship in the 2008 campaign. The team lost big man Brian Ilad to graduation, Kish Co who played heroically during the championship against UE, and OJ Cua. Their departure was somewhat softened by the return from injury of Marko Barticevic. Left to carry the cudgels for the team were veterans JV Casio and Rico Maierhofer. The two practically carried the team on their shoulders for the entire season. The team lineup included rookies Maui Villanueva, LA Revilla, Joshua Webb, Hyram Bagatsing, Jovet Mendoza, and Manoj Chandumal.
La Salle started the season on a bad note, losing their initial match against Ateneo. They won all other games in the first round except for their last assignment against UE, which went all out for revenge after being swept in the titular playoff in the previous season.
Injuries took their toll on the Archers. Marko reinjured his knee after performing well, and Simon sat out a few games due to a head injury. LA Revilla, an exciting if undersized point guard, stepped into the vacancy, and showed why he was the choice of the coaches during their recruitment.
In the second round, the Archers managed the same win-loss performance as in the first round, but this time they fell to the hands of resurgent FEU, behind the scoring of eventual Smart Gilas national team mainstay Barroca. Again the Archers failed to solve the Ateneo inside-out game, losing anew in another tight game.
The Green Archers basically struggled all throughout the eliminations, with a lack of depth in the frontline as well as difficulties in consistent scoring. They finished at 10-4 in a tie with FEU for 2nd. Tough, hard-fought games characterized the Archers’ elimination rounds. Gone was the one-sided dominance over most of the league, and only the sheer determination and will power of the team led by captain JV and Rico prevented losses to UST, UE, and the “weaker” teams. The once dreaded pressure defense still netted the Archers some points, but the other teams had already devised their countermeasures. At this point, it was apparent that the team was at a disadvantage in the paint against the playoff-bound teams despite the presence of Rico.
Ateneo was clearly on a different plane that year, having lost only 1 game in the eliminations. Along with the steady leadership of Chris Tiu, the Eagles saw the emergence of their center Rabah Al-Husseini into a legitimate threat in the shaded lane. Rabah’s amazing season was capped off by him winning the MVP plum, and Ateneo dominated the individual awards with Buenafe copping the Rookie of the Year award.
The Green Archers dueled with the Tamaraws in a virtual best-of-three showdown for a finals berth. La Salle eventually prevailed in two gut-wrenching games to arrange another title clash with Ateneo, which easily defeated UE in their own series. The FEU series could have easily gone either way, and was decided only in the last minute of the second game.
Not having beaten the Blue Eagles all season, the Archers were definitely in a quandary in the finals. Ateneo had the clear manpower advantage, particularly in the forward and center slots where they had a significant edge in size and heft. The Ateneo strategy was to limit the contributions of JV and Rico at all cost, and they succeeded when the other Archers were unable to pick up the scoring slack.
Breaks didn’t seem to go La Salle’s way in the finals as they were swept by the Blue Eagles in two tight games that were decided only in the final few minutes. Despite all the disadvantages, the Green Archers went down fighting. Whenever the Archers would double team the bigger Ateneo inside players, the outside shooting of Tiu and Reyes kept the Eagles in the lead. At the end, the Blue Eagles’ depth was simply too much for the team to overcome. Still, second place was an achievement considering that this was a young team with 6 rookies.