by Neal Tieng
It is do-or-die Wednesday as the surging Green Archers of De La Salle collides with a suddenly hot UP Fighting Maroons in Season 84’s Final Four at the Mall of Asia Arena at 3:30pm.
UP holds a twice-to-beat edge, and is still euphoric after their stunning 1-point victory over the defending champions in the heart-stopping last game of the double elimination rounds. The improbable victory set the entire UAAP basketball world abuzz, as many had been hungry for a collegiate Cinderella team.
The biggest perennial question would be, CAN LA SALLE STOP THAT RUNAWAY TRAIN THAT IS UP?
The Maroons had swept La Salle during the elimination rounds, and are looking to ride that freight train-like momentum after their Sunday’s epic, streak-ending victory against the defending champions.
Beyond the smoke of Sunday’s UPset, can La Salle stop the Maroon’s Cinderella run?
In most games, UP has two versions of their team – the fighting team and the “tulala” version. It’s hard to determine which team gets out of the huddle after the quarter break.
The “scary Maroons” put their energy on full display during first quarter of the game against the defending champions, and shot a phenomenal 55% from the field en route to a 14-point lead.
Then the “Mr. Hyde” version of the UP Maroons entered in the second quarter and allowed Ateneo to stage a grand comeback. They got outrebounded 14-7 and were a step slow in closing out on the Loyola Heights shooters. When their opponents are given that much time and space, they will shoot their own version of 55.5% accuracy from the field.
During our second-round encounter, we ran into the scary Maroons. Using their unique brand of aggressive on-ball defense and tenacity off the boards, the Diliman ballers kept their Taft opponents at bay for 38 minutes until Schonny Winston decided to mount a one-man comeback mission that kept the game close.
Despite the struggles for all but the last two minutes, La Salle displayed some positive indicators in the second round.
THE GREEN POSITIVES:
- Improved field goal percentage from 39.6% in the first round to 44.8% in the second. This is the result of better familiarity with their teammates’ individual offensive styles and more consistent ball movement which led to better looks. La Salle had five more assists per game in the second round (17.57 assists per game) compared to the first (12.57 assists per game).
- The Green Archers were more aggressive in attacking the rack and drawing contact. As a result, La Salle had eight more foul throw attempts per game, 16.14 in round one compared to 24.71 in round two. Although still firing at a poor shooting clip, the Green Archers shot five percent better from the charity lane in the second round (60.69%) compared to the first (55.75).
- La Salle was better in transition basketball scoring 11.57 points off the break in the second round compared to the 7.71 points in the first.
- Schonny Winston broke out from a second option to being a leading scorer. At the end of the eliminations, the 4th year guard from Central Michigan leads DLSU scoring with 12.83 points per game.
But the deeper question can these translate into a victory over UP?
THE KEYS TO THE GAME:
- A BRIGHTER NWAKWO – the resident Taft import is a defensive beast, but his offense is still a project. However, we need Nwankwo to step up offensively in the series. Because he’s not considered as a scoring threat, Nwakwo does not attract defensive attention, allowing UP’s Malick Diouf to take on either Justin Baltazar or Michael Phillips.
- MARK NONOY – we need Mark Nonoy to be Mark Nonoy 2019. We have seen peeks of the mighty speedster from Iloilo but with speed, he loses control. We need Nonoy to pick his spots and capitalize on his abilities at the right moments.
- OFFENSIVE GAMEPLAN FOR WINSTON – with the recent surge in Schonny’s offensive game, an early double-team may not be farfetched. Floor spacing and effective passing out of the double-team will be critical, and spot-up shooters must be open and hit their shots to take advantage of anyone who might cheat on defense.
- WING DEFENSE – UP gains momentum when their 3’s start hitting the net and loses it once they struggle from deep. Ability to spread the floor has been the Maroons’ weapons with multiple options ready to fire anytime. But when their long bombs start to sputter, La Salle would have a better chance to win against UP.
- IPA-NELLE-NATIN ITO – Evan Nelle’s three and D presence would be very needed tomorrow. His threat from deep will keep the defense honest and his defensive presence can deter UP’s vaunted three-point shooters from going berserk.
The biggest thing working for UP is their momentum. But we can stop that. One statement win will be all it takes to shift that momentum to us, and keep our season going.
ANIMO LA SALLE!!!