By Absout Verde
La Salle 46
It lasts three minutes on average, and if you’re not careful, they’ll lift you by the horns and leave your arteries gushing. The La Salle Lady Archers should know. The last time they survived an FEU bull run, it was 2011. After that it was seven straight gorings, some of them too savage to depict. Even during last year’s championship season, they had gone 0-2 against the Lady Tamaraws, before the latter’s forfeitures.
Forget the streak, La Salle needed to beat this lot (Oh, FEU. We don’t enjoy boardroom victories as much as you). The Lady Tamaraws are clearly not the same team without Season 76 MVP Camille Sambile, having already lost to Ateneo and National in the first round, but they are still dangerous on the break. The Lady Archers used good spacing and denial defence in the first quarter to limit their opponents to six points, but there were enough signs that FEU could trouble them with transition baskets and quick penetrations. Clearly missing though was that fearsome mix of strength, agility, and length in the FEU frontline that would often just mangle teams season after season (it’s NU’s now, but you can only fight what’s in front of you). Against this, the Lady Archers brought their balanced attack and trapping defence and comfortably held a double-digit lead throughout the game, the last time on a delicious bullet pass from Miller Ong that cut out four defenders and found Trisha Piatos on the weak side. They could smell the cooking.
And then in two minutes of madness halfway through the final period, the lead vanished.
The run started inocuously enough, 39-31 to La Salle, 5:30 to go. Alyanna Ong turned the ball over and within seconds, Angel Arellano had laid it in for FEU. Then Trisha Piatos missed a long jumper and April Siat alley-ooped to finish another FEU fastbreak. Sensing trouble, Coach Tyrone Bautista called time but the play that ended up with Cass Santos driving inside yielded nothing and three Lady Tamaraws crashed the boards. More worrying, La Salle’s transition defence was mired and when Jacqueline Tanaman hit a trey to bring FEU to 39-38, a grand total of one minute of game time had passed. The corral gates were open and the Tams were running.
It would get worse. FEU played the Lady Archers straight up but tight, and Nicky Garcia forced a pass and lost it out of bounds. La Salle trapped on the return play but the Lady Tamaraws welcomed the press like an old friend. When a long pass found the gangly Claire Castro under the goal, La Salle were late to close down and her miss left Tanaman unchallenged for the go-ahead basket. FEU had scored nine straight points in two minutes, and they had taken their first lead. There were three and a half minutes left on the clock.
But the Lady Archers have gone through too much this week – an unprecedented three-game schedule, an injury to point guard Camille Claro, an over-zealous makeup job by the pastry chefs at ABS-CBN Sports’ On Target – for them to quietly yield. Finals MVP Trisha Piatos (“May pressure talaga habang buhay. Pag patay ka na, ayun, wala nang pressure”) instantly penned the Lady Tamaraws back with a butcher three to restore La Salle’s lead. Nicky Garcia would provide a buffer basket at 44-41 but after Siat cut the deficit back to one, the Lady Archers had to survive two turnovers and two clear chances for FEU in the final minute before Piatos and her free throws brought a tense, breathless, ultimately cathartic match to an end.
Player of the game: The omnipresent, implacable Mac Cardona, este, Nicky Garcia. When she’s off, she’ll still be her team’s enforcer. When she’s on, she’s a force of nature. In this game, she got her scoring touch early and the offence flowed toward her. But she saved her best for those crucial two minutes in which the Lady Archers were under the cosh. Down by one, she handed the ball to Piatos while simultaneously clearing off a defender for that vital three. Then she padded the lead herself on the next play. Now NU await, the only other undefeated team. Her coach says, “we’re built for this”.
La Salle (46) – Garcia 15, Piatos 10, Ong M. 6, Santos 5, Melendres 3, Ong A. 2, Roxas 2, Castillo 2, Corcuera 1, Vergara 0, Scott 0.
FEU (43) – Castro 12, Arellano 10, Tanaman 9, Siat 8, Valenzona 2, Ventura 2, Baldonado 0, Hortaleza 0, Chan 0, Balleser 0, Gabriel 0.
Quarterscores: 12-6, 24-14, 34-24, 46-43