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The View From the Armchair – Game 4 vs NU

Quick. What is big,  green, ugly, and has a reputation for causing warts?

If after watching our first round encounter against NU, you answered “Green Archer basketball”, I wouldn’t blame you. Close, but now quite. The usual answer is “a toad”.

You may ask, why the question? Well, if you saw the game live, you might have asked something similar. Or stalked out of the arena after the Alma Mater song to get some mouthwash to gargle away the bad taste the game left in your mouth. And I wouldn’t blame you if you broke out in rashes with every missed shot in the second half. Some might even mistake the rashes for the beginnings of warts.

The Archers picked up their second win by muzzling the ‘dogs in what could be called the street brawl equivalent of a basketball game. It sure wasn’t purty, but they got it done, beating NU into submission, 74-63. For some, the win was as excruciatingly painful as a root canal without anesthesia, particularly in the 3rd quarter where the Archers managed to score all of 2 points, probably a league record or close to it. Thankfully, NU also had their own version of offensive ineptitude, only putting up 13 points during this quarter to allow us to hang on to the remnants of a once-large 23 point lead which shrank to just 12 after 3 periods. With the Bulldogs snarling and snapping at their heels, the Green Archers looked like they were about to become roadkill. Some furious tinkering with the Archers’ lineup in the last 10 minutes managed to stem the bleeding, allowing them to keep an 11-point margin at the end.

One thing’s for sure, the 2-point total and 15 total points scored by both teams in the third quarter will remain a trivia item for a long time. And our 15 second half points? Against UP, I wrote about a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde persona of the Archers. Nowhere was it more vividly evident than in the tale of two halves yesterday. 59 points in the first half. 15 in the second. Are we talking about the same team?

Ten years from now, if you’re asked “What’s the lowest scoring quarter ever in the UAAP?”, chances are the ready answer will be this game. Season 74, game 4 of the Green Archers.

What went wrong?

A lot. The second half was a stark contrast to a smooth, effective, and explosive Archer first half. Next question, please.

Questions, questions

The questions about the causes for the offensive ineptitude will remain in people’s mind for a long time. How could a team stocked with so many shooters and scorers be held to just 2 foul shots in a quarter?

And the head scratching about the substitution patterns and player rotation will continue. Head and Shoulders, anyone?

The zero errors of Martin Reyes and Papot Paredes. Wait, what was that? Reyes and Paredes didn’t play. Sorry, my mistake. But Papot was a defensive terror in the paint last season, and Reyes showed a lot of promise in LSGH. Are they in the coach’s doghouse, pun intended? And why are Almond Vosotros and Jovet Mendoza keeping them company on the bench?

What went right?

The first half. Sam Marata’s ending his shooting slump. The second consecutive double digit scoring game of AVO and Oda Tampus. Maui’s continued excellent all-around “not-in-the-stat sheet” play. LA Revilla’s ability to carry the team when needed. Luigi dela Paz’s dagger 3 that was final nail in the ‘dogs hopes to pull off a win.

Some good D = prized NU rookie Parks held to an ineffective 13 points.

The significance of this game

We’re now at .500 with 2 wins after that bad 2-loss start. With 10 games to go, seven more wins will practically assure us of a playoff berth, while six more will probably get us at least a tie for a playoff spot. Still a long way to go, but we’re getting there. One game at a time.

People will question how this game was won, and will doubt the team’s ability to win against better opponents. Valid concerns. Can this team compete effectively against the better teams?

Wait one moment. Who says we can’t be competitive?

During the run-up to Season 74, wasn’t NU fancied as an F4 contender? Didn’t we battle toe-to-toe with both FEU and Ateneo for stretches in the first half of both games, only to falter in the 2nd half? Well, our past 2 games have featured a fairly good finishing kick at the end-game. And the team also showed that it can recover from a bad patch and find a way to win. That was lacking in the past editions of the Archers.

Let’s also look at it the other way. Can’t question results – the win. Is a win is a win. Not a loss. 2-2 instead of 1-3. I’d much rather we win ugly than we play pretty ball and we lose. Yesterday, the Archers managed to win despite playing ugly ball. Again. Last year, we were griping about the team and players not finding a way to win because there was no go-to guy. Well, some have emerged today, enough to cement our win, ugly though it may be.

Our secret weapon?

We saw glimpses of this ugly ball against UP in the second quarter. I guess they’re getting the hang of it by now.

Let’s use another angle – we forced the opponents to play our game, just turned out that it was ugly. Can’t complain that NU also played ugly. Actually, even uglier. I’d like to think that our team had a hand in that.

Hmmm, maybe we’ve stumbled on to something here. Oops, I might be letting out a secret, that is to force the opponents to play our game. After all, that is always the objective of the coaches – to force the opponents to play at your chosen tempo, and control the nature of the game to suit your strategy. Maybe the plan is to promote ugly ball the way past editions of the Green Archers used the pressure defense and full court press to force opponents into a panic when they shifted into trap mode. Trivia – former Ateneo hotshot Chris Tiu got an unwelcome taste of this in his very first game against us in the UAAP, which is probably why he had his “Master moment” during an all-alone fastbreak which he unceremoniously flubbed, to the howls of the gallery.

Now, if we can get the remaining opponents to play ugly, of course we’ll win. After all, our team pioneered this strategy this year. And so far, it’s taking our opponents by surprise. It certainly worked against UP after it was unveiled in our last game. After 4 outings, I haven’t seen anything remotely similar from the other coaches. It takes a lot of practice to play smooth basketball. Unlearning that is hard.  Ugly ball is hard work, believe it or not.

Well, it worked yesterday, didn’t it? Coach E probably didn’t know what hit him, what with the revolving door substitutions. When our players like Marata and AVO start scoring, they get subbed. Just when Coach E was fielding in his defenders specifically to stop them. So what’s the defender going to do when he checks in only to find that his defensive assignment is already on the bench? Probably messed up the opposing coach’s well designed game plans and player rotations also. And his players probably were confused and incredulous when we missed all our field goal tries in the 3rd quarter. Didn’t know how to react.

Ugly ball. It’s infectious. Other teams may not have an antidote yet. Toss the element of surprise into the mix. Stir well and serve when least expected. Guaranteed to surprise. Mixed metaphors? Just like confusing game plans? No worries. At this point, nobody does it better than us. And surprisingly, it seems to be working so far.

Still another point of view. Call me suspicious. But after a really good, in fact, superb first half performance which showed how good and dominating Archer ball can be, maybe the coaches realized that the other teams would be watching, and told the team to play loose and ugly, make the competition think the first half was a fluke. Maybe our coaches thought they had tipped their hand, showed their cards too early. Actually, after looking at the scores, all we needed to do to win was score 5 (!!!) points in the second half. 5 measly points. We scored 15, so it wasn’t as much of a heart stopper. If you think about it, which half was the real fluke? Smoke screen theory, anyone?

Talk about a paradigm shift. A puzzler. Makes it harder for opposing coaches to prepare against us. And that’s a good thing. Methinks there’s a method to this seeming madness, but we haven’t figured out what it is yet. That’s for our coaches to know and for us supporters to try and find out while we watch the games.

Me? I’d gladly take an ugly win, warts and all. But first, will somebody please get that frog off my desk?

And from my friend Proud Archer:

 NU started playing VERY PHYSICAL in the second half.  You could see it while Parks was egging his teamates on coming out of the dug-out for the second half (I was seeated near the entrance.).  We couldn’t adjust (both the players and the coaching staff) for quite a long period simply because: 

  1. Most of our players are still young.  They do not know to respond to this physicality.
  2. You have now seen the disadvantage of a shorter rotation.  We did not bring in bangers like Gotladera and Paredes in.  See?  In every choice, there are advantages and disadvantages.  That is why I do not like posts which dwell into hindsight analysis.  Everyone’s vision is 20-20 hindsight.
  3. Our rotation has been further shortened by the disappearance of the games of some players (sophomore jinx?), particulary Almond Vosotros and Papot Paredes.  These are guys who did very well last season, and are now missing in the rotation.  Guess who was the point guard during NU’s comeback?
  4. Very subtly, no one noticed that this shorter rotation forced Tampus to play point at times, instead of bringing in Dan Sara (you wanted a shorter rotation didn’t you?  Well you got it in this game).  As a result, Tampus, who was doing well as the 6th man off the very succesful first five of Van Opstal, Villanueva, Atkins, Revilla, and Atkins, had to overwork himself.  Thus, he became foul prone and we only saw him playing effectively again in the fourth quarter.

  Did we gain from this Jekyll and Hyde basketball game?????  TREMENDOUSLY.  NOW let’s look at the positves I saw. 

  1. The press and passing lane defense was BACK!!!!!!!  You know how we scored 30 and 29 points in the first 2 quarters?  Answer:  DEFENSE!!!!!!!!!!!  They did score only 63 poitns right?  My baromoter this season for defensive success.
  2. Emergence of our potential first 6 rotation (Van Opstal, Villanueva, Atkins, Tampus, Revilla, and Atkins).  They are now emerging as the core of our team this season.  Aren’t you glad that it’s coming out this early?  The shorter rotation you speak of should have a SOLID first five or 6 core.  This is what Ateneo and Adamson have.
  3. The emergence of Oda Tampus.  Look at our players who were being defended very physically in the second half.  Who put a stop to that drought?  Who came up with crucial plays, both offense and defense?  Study the tapes.  It was ODA TAMPUS.  Subtle as it may have appeared to some.  Putting in the vernacular, “sa tigasan ng katawan at baragan ng laro, sumasabay na si Oda” Don’t focus your analysis on “we just have Revilla”.  SureL.A.is our leader now.  He will consistently do what is necessary for us to win and yes, he played another hell of a game yesterday with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, etc.  Hell, he is now our J.V. Casio.
  4. MAUIVillanueva.  Much maligned?  Now what can you say?  Mauimay not be there in the stat sheets but he is in the mold of players like J.R. Aquino, Jerwin Gaco, and Adonis Sta. Maria.  You need players like these on a championship team.  If everyone is a superstar, there will be chaos.
  5. NOW we have a blueprint for teams who will play physical on us.  We can now learn from this experience and react accordingly.

My advice has always been the same.  Take it game by game.  A different game plan for every game.  Each opponent is unique.  You cannot apply the same strategies each and every time. You will become predictable and generic, and you will NOT win the championship.  Short or long rotation?  Take your pick. 

        ANIMO!!!!!!!