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The View From the Armchair: Game 10 vs NU

img-2642Coming from a 1-week layoff, the Green Archers came out flat and fell behind by as many as 15 points before recovering in the second half to overwhelm the NU Bulldogs 79-67 last Saturday at the Philsports Arena. A combination of factors may have lulled the Archers into thinking that NU would be easy pickings: the relatively easy first round 93-69 victory, the 2-7 W-L record of the Bulldogs, and the injuries Jahnke and Garcia suffered against UE. Boy were they wrong.

The ‘dogs came out snapping and snarling, and raced to a 9-0 lead before the Archers regained their bearings to tie the game at 16-all. NU held on to take the first quarter, 22-19. Just when it seemed that the Archers were poised to take over the game, NU exploded with 20 points in the second quarter while holding the Archers to just 12 to take an 11 point lead at halftime. A noticeable lack of Archer intensity translated into several botched offensive plays and a wide open defense that allowed the Bulldogs to take a double digit lead in the first half. Notably off their games during the first half, James and Rico committed most of their turnovers in this stretch.

After a good talking-to in the dugout during the halftime break, the Archers came out focused and with a renewed sense of urgency. This was critical as NU was playing with a great deal of confidence up to that point. JV Casio led by example as he ably orchestrated the plays, sank his 3pointers, and showcased his overall leadership as the Archers limited NU to 9 points while equalling their 31 first half points in just the 3rd quarter to completely turn the tables on the Bulldogs. The decisive 3rd quarter saw La Salle outscoring their NU counterparts 31-9 to take an 11 point lead going into the final quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Archers were content to match NU to take the win.

Offense

The Archers offset their first half shooting woes with a masterful 3rd quarter scoring onslaught, draining consecutive 3pointers and making most of their 2point shots to tally 48 points in the second half. In 3pointers, the green-and-white team made 8/21, slightly above their game average, while they made 22 out of 47 2point field goals for 46.8%. Free throw shooting continued to be below par, as the Archers sank only 11 out of 16 fts for 68.8%. Peejay continued to perform well against NU, almost singlehandedly keeping the Archers in the game in the first half with over 10 points. One of the offensive highlights of the game was a spectacular one-handed dunk from Ferdinand off an assist from one of the Archer guards. Ferdinand snapped out of his recent funk with 2/2 shooting, and his performance and renewed confidence augurs well for the next games.

Defense

The Archers first half defense was woeful, surrendering 42 points by allowing NU to take uncontested perimeter shots and allowing dribble penetrations from both the guards and the big frontliners. Asoro was forced outside by the tough defense, but he made the defense pay by sinking 3/7 3pointers and 4/7 from closer range. Aguilar also had his way inside in the first half, making most of his 11 points on close-in shots before being shackled in the second half by the active and physical defense of Maui and Ferdinand. The second half defensive effort limited NU to a total of 32 fg attempts, of which they made 16 for 50% shooting, rather high for a DLSU opponent.  The active Archer defense yielded 24 free throws, which NU converted int 17 points. The press was present throughout the game, but was particularly effective in the 3rd quarter where it forced several NU turnovers during that decisive run.

Others

The Archers were surprisingly outrebounded by NU, 35-42. Former rookie of the year Asoro hauled down 10 rebounds against the Archer frontline. Peejay and Maui were the most active rebounders among the Archers with 6 apiece. Peejay underscored his nose for the ball with 5 offensive out of his 6 boards. Bader and Ferdinand collected 4 rebounds each. The improved team play of the Archers in the second half saw them out-assist NU, 19-13, led by JV and Rico with 5 each, and LA with 4. Rico continued to guard the middle, rejecting 2 NU interior attempts. The Archers committed 19 turnovers, but forced NU into 28 as they turned the game around with the pressure defense.

The Rookie Watch

As in previous games, Maui logged the most minutes of any rookie with 22. He was instrumental in keeping the NU bigs out of scoring position, often fronting Aguilar in the second half to prevent a repeat of Aguilar’s strong first half performance. LA logged 15 minutes and scored 8 points on 3/6 shooting plus 2/4 free throws on top of 4 assists. Hyram also played 15 highly effective minutes, hitting 1/2 on both his 2 and 3 point attempts for 5 points aside from 3 rebounds. The hustle of the 3 rookies contributed to the third quarter push of the Archers.

What needs work

The Archers were probably overconfident going into this game, and they almost paid for it. With the tournament approaching the homestretch, each game will count, and the Archers cannot afford to take any team for granted. The players must execute the game plan to the letter in order to have a chance to win. The first half showed how a lack of concentration and focus can lead to potentially disastrous results.

The veterans must follow the example set by JV, who literally carried the team on his shoulders by the quality of his play. James and Rico cannot take the same lackadaisical attitude they showed in the first half, because their play is critical to our undersized frontline. At this point of the tournament, it will all boil down to the mental aspect of the game as well as the players’ heart – which team wants the win more.

The Archers will also have to start each game strong, instead of letting the opponents grab the initiative and the lead. Unfortunately, this has been the case in most of the games this year, starting from the game against Ateneo where they were unable to get back into the game despite making a strong second half run. In both our losses, the Archers simply ran out of time. The team cannot make it a habit to come from behind the way they did against NU.

What worked

Again, the defense, when the Archers decided to turn it on full blast in the 2nd half. The interior defense is starting to stiffen, and this will be critical when the Archers play the taller teams like UST and Ateneo. The ball movement in the second half was particularly good. I don’t know what Franz told the team in the locker room, but the Archers came out breathing fire. The team will have to bring this mental attitude and focus at the start of each game, and keep it up throughout the full 40 minutes.

Next game: vs FEU (4pm Aug 23 at the PhilSports Arena)

FEU is riding high on their win over UST, and may have Kave back in their lineup. The tall, athletic Tams will definitely be a handful, and their supporters are expected to come in large numbers. We have a good chance to win on the court – let’s not lose the war in the stands.