In a season filled with anticipation, the De La Salle Green Archers have finally begun to transform into the title contenders everyone expected them to be.
Their journey from a lackluster .500 team in the first round of the tournament to an impressive winning streak of three games culminated with a resounding 88-78 victory over the second-running NU Bulldogs at the Mall of Asia Arena last night. The game showcased a mix of the old reliable and a surprise breakout performance that left the usually stout NU defense in awe.
Kevin Quiambao, demonstrating a level of play reminiscent of Magic Johnson, recorded his first career triple-double, amassing 17 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds. Quiambao’s swift and precise passing initiated fluid ball movement, breathing life into the Archers’ offense.
Junel Policarpio, who had only contributed 32 points in the entire first round, emerged as the surprise breakout star of the game. His performance included 15 points, 8 rebounds, and four assists, providing the team with versatility and a triple-threat capability. Policarpio’s scoring from deep, lightning-fast first step, and impressive vertical jump made him virtually unstoppable against NU.
What truly set the Archers apart, however, was their incredible teamwork, evident in the 30 assists they tallied, dwarfing NU’s 16. This extraordinary feat underscored a commitment to an offensive system that prioritized ball movement and finding the best possible scoring opportunities, marking a considerable improvement from their first-round average of 20 assists per game.
With the score at 54-45 and 6:30 remaining in the third quarter, Quiambao initiated the game-deciding pull-away run with a three-pointer at the top of the key. As NU attempted to stage a comeback with long-range shots, Quiambao countered each attack with pinpoint passes to Policarpio and Joshua David, resulting in a 65-51 lead with 2:30 left in the quarter.
The fourth quarter began with Quiambao delivering a no-look, behind-the-head pass to Raven Cortez, slowly extending their lead to 74-57. At this point, the outcome was merely a matter of composure, as the Archers withstood numerous threats from the Bulldogs.
As the Green Archers continue to evolve, the question arises: Are they finally turning the corner? Their end-of-the-first-round victory over UE, coupled with a convincing win over UST, might not have been definitive indicators of a squad coming together, given the struggling status of their opponents. La Salle had to mount a strong last-quarter comeback against UE, with Cortez and Quiambao displaying heroics to overcome a significant first-half deficit.
The rematch against NU served as the perfect launch pad for their title aspirations. Facing the second-running team in the league, a well-coached NU squad with a dominant import, La Salle needed a solid win to solidify their championship ambitions. Coach Topex Robinson made strategic changes, increasing playing time for Policarpio and Cortez while putting more trust in his bench, led by Joshua David and Earl Abadam.
What truly distinguished the victory over NU was the Archers’ commitment to Coach Topex’s system, emphasizing quick ball movement. Even as NU mounted repeated rallies, Quiambao and Evan Nelle refrained from resorting to hero ball. Instead, they placed their trust in the system and their teammates. An impressive 67% of the 30 assists came from either Nelle or Quiambao.
The result was seamless basketball, characterized by a lack of forced shots early in the shot clock or panic shots as the clock winded down. With their newfound cohesion and confidence, the Green Archers are ready to face the league-leading UP team on November 5, 2023, at the MOA Arena, setting their sights on further solidifying their title contention.
ANIMO LA SALLE!