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The View From the Armchair: Final Game vs FEU

At last the season’s over. Perhaps mercifully so. The most painful and frustrating season in recent memory ended not with some success as many of us supporters had hoped, but with possibly the worst record of any Green Archer team in the UAAP as the team lost 57-66 to FEU yesterday.

Despite competing effectively with the Tamaraws for the majority of the first half, the Archers faltered anew in the last 2 periods to allow FEU to hang on to 3rd place in the standings while the Archers fell to 6th, another historic low for this team with a proud tradition of success and excellence.

So what happened?

This was the final game for captain Simon Atkins and Maui Villanueva, and they gave it their all in an effort to help the team upset the favored Tamaraws. Simon played his best game of the year, delivering 16 points off  several treys, assisting his teammates, and harassing Garcia and Romeo on defense. Joshua pitched in with a vintage Webb performance, scoring 10 points in a quick 4-minute span to almost single-handedly bring the Archers back into the game in the first half. AVO and Jovet battled FEU on the boards and managed to sink 11 points each, but the rest of the team only totaled 8 points. Point guards LA and Almond only scored a basket each, underscoring the inconsistency plaguing the Archer offensive.

However, the effort was there all throughout the game. The Archers tried to give Simon and Maui a winning sendoff. Unfortunately, the effort wasn’t enough. Not when the coaches resorted to the tried and tested (to fail) zone defense in the second half. Not when the usual questionable substitution practices and player rotations were employed once again with any Archer with the hot hand being substituted within 5 minutes from the time he entered, regardless of whether he was on a hot streak. Not when the plays called against the Tam zone were to our post-up our big players, for teammates to lob passes which, due to the slowness of the play, hesitation of the passer and the ineffective positioning of the post player, were often tipped away or intercepted.

It was again a tale of 2 halves, with markedly different results. In the first half, Joshua caught fire and single-handedly brought the Archers back into contention with his high energy and 10 quick points. Simon got hot and hit his treys early. AVO and Jovet battled on the boards and scored close in. We led at the half, 33-27, and hopes were high that the team would maintain the intensity and competitiveness to bow out with a victory.

And then the second half happened. The Archers emerged from the half-time break with orders to go mostly zone. The result? FEU predictably shredded our 2-3 defense whenever we went zone in the second half, even easily scoring on 2 “nakaw” plays off baseline inbound sets. It was a study in how teams prepare for us – getting the scorers to come in on diagonal cuts from the perimeter, undetected since most defensive attention was on the inbounder. Worked so well, too – Garcia’s cut left him wide open in the corner for a trey, and Romeo slid in for an easy layup.Of course, the Tams used the zone against us in the closing half, with predictable success.

Like most of the other teams in the UAAP, the Tamaraws easily picked the zone apart to wrest the lead, finding the gaps in the zone to hit their open shooter, or easily penetrate the first line of defense to drive and dish to an open teammate. They sure made it look easy, although the Archers refused to give way and forced FEU to execute well, which they did, and in the process killing whatever momentum and confidence our players had. At the end, although the margin was 9 points, it was a hard-fought loss and the Archers made FEU earn every single point of that margin.

What went wrong?

The second half tactics. Repeating what didn’t work and nipping in the bud (by pulling out the player with the hot hand) any successful runs we had. Allowing FEU to dictate the pace and seize control of the game.

FEU, like Adamson, likes to shoot from outside. True, they’ll occasionally have a bad game where their shots don’t fall, but it’s not a good bet to assume that they’ll miss that many on a consistent basis. At least, the defense should try to contest all shots from the perimeter. With the zone, however, or at least with our version of the 2-3 zone, the opponents easily find the open spots through fast off the ball movement and crisp passes. Shooters usually can take the time to set their feet for an uncontested shot. And FEU had Garcia and Romeo, who will snap off a long shot any time they get a bit of separation from their man.

The zone gave the Tams that much time to take open shots, and when they did miss, the zone’s inherent pitfall prevented our players from boxing out so that FEU got so many offensive boards and loose ball recoveries. Clearly the worst possible scenario of a zone defense did happen. Again.

As mentioned earlier, we did have some hot hands – notably Joshua, who scored 7 consecutive points for us. But, predictably, his number wasn’t called too often after that, and he was subbed around 5 minutes after he entered. After that first half burst, he failed to contribute anything more. Simon also did hit his shots, but was so closely marked that all he could manage in the second half was a few hurried catch-and-shoot attempts which missed. So much for riding the hot hand.

What next?

The off-season will be a period of uncertainty for the team. Being down in 6th spot is an unfamiliar place for the Archers. To continue in the future with the current coaching philosophies will almost certainly yield the same results as this year, so it’s almost a certainty that changes will be introduced.

There is also a need to refocus the training programs on the fundamentals as well as development of the skills of the individual players. Two years of Chicago training don’t seem to have made any difference in this area.

The people driving the training should have a good track record as performers as well as mentors to ensure that the training will be effective in developing the players.  The training programs should result in a demonstrable improvement in skills and performance if done right.

There’s a saying that goes “there’s nowhere to go but up”. How appropriate. Unless the school decides that status quo is ok, and does nothing. Because maintaining status quo is always an option.

It’s been said before that the preparations for next season starts today. So many things to do, if the team is to do better in the future.