The De La Salle University Green Archers are on the cusp of a pivotal moment in their storied sports history. Since the Renren Ritualo 4-peat Green Archers era, La Salle has navigated a shifting landscape of competition within the dynamic UAAP.
A transformative halftime moment during their last first-round game against UE became a turning point for the Season 86 Green Archers. Trailing the non-contending Red Warriors 37-48 at halftime in the last game of the first round, emerging from a mystical portal within the UST Quadricentennial Pavillion, the team evolved into an upgraded version that shredded the field with a remarkable nine-game winning streak.
Following that surreal episode, the revitalized Archers secured victories against UE to close the first round, sweeping the second round, and decisively overpowering NU in the Final Four, the question lingers: can La Salle overcome UP in the finals?
Encounters between UP and La Salle, from pre-season clashes to the two rounds in the UAAP, remain inconclusive. La Salle missed Evan Nelle in the first round while UP played without Malik Diouf in the second. Even the pre-season clashes resulted in a split between the two teams.
THE FIL OIL – ECO OIL FINALS
The narrative of this final is straightforward yet impactful. La Salle managed to keep the game tight in the first quarter, only to be blindsided by an extraordinary shooting display from a third-string Maroon. Mark Belmonte of UP unleashed a barrage of four consecutive 3-pointers in the second quarter, propelling UP from a 20-all deadlock to a commanding 32-49 lead midway through the game. Trailing significantly, La Salle faced an uphill battle in the final half and eventually yielding the pre-season crown.
THE TWO “INCOMPLETE” ELIMINATION ROUND GAMES
In the absence of Evan Nelle during their first-round encounter, the Green Archers found themselves facing a formidable challenge against UP’s deep and deadly guard rotation. UP boasts an enviable lineup, featuring JD Cagulangan, Harold Alarcon, Gerry Abadiano, and Janjan Felicilda, all of whom possess the skillset to be starters in any UAAP team. This collective prowess in the backcourt presented a formidable obstacle for La Salle.
Struggling with Nelle’s absence, La Salle navigated the game with rookie Joshua David assuming the role of orchestrator, improvising their offensive approach on the fly. Despite this adaptation, the Green Archers showcased resilience, building a promising 10-point lead at one juncture. However, UP’s well-coached squad orchestrated a ruthless 19-0 run, capitalizing on La Salle’s 20 turnovers, effectively punishing every lapse in execution.
Amidst the loss, a silver lining emerged in Kevin Quiambao’s performance. KQ, who had endured a challenging 2-of-15 shooting in the FilOil finals against the same opponent, escalated his game, registering 14 points and 7 rebounds. This was a significant leap from his prior struggles, offering a glimmer of positivity for the Green Archers despite the eventual loss.
In the subsequent second-round showdown, La Salle faced a UP squad missing the influential presence of Malik Diouf. Capitalizing on this absence, the Green Archers dictated the game’s tempo, imposing their dominance on the offensive glass with a commanding 17-10 rebound advantage, converting these boards into impressive 18 second-chance points.
Furthermore, La Salle’s intensified defensive pressure effectively neutralized UP’s star power. The loaded Diliman guards, deprived of Diouf’s contributions, succumbed to La Salle’s relentless defensive scheme, resulting in 22 turnovers. Notably, the highly-touted double-digit scorer, Lebron Lopez, was held to a mere two points, a testament to the Green Archers’ defensive tenacity and strategic adjustments.
Despite UP’s commendable 45% shooting accuracy from the field, showcasing their resilience and ability to adapt even without key players, they could not thwart the revamped and cohesive Green Archers in the second round.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE UP MAROONS
The Fighting Maroons epitomize precision shooting, boasting an impressive field goal percentage of over 40%, marking them as one of the most accurate shooting teams in the league. Their proficiency beyond the arc is particularly notable, shooting at an impressive clip of 31% from three-point range. This deadly accuracy positions UP as a constant threat, capable of turning any game around from long distance.
Despite their offensive prowess, UP grapples with a turnover issue, leading the league with nearly 20 errors per game. However, their ability to offset these turnovers by pressuring opponents into committing a similar number of mistakes defensively makes them a formidable force. While risky, this balanced equation often enables UP to maintain parity and nullify their mistakes through aggressive defensive play.
UP is also a good defensive team. They topped the league in the first-round in limiting shooting percentages from the field at 35% and locked their opponents down with excellent perimeter defense at 24%.
In Season 86, UP experienced only two defeats, both revealing valuable insights into their vulnerabilities. The first-round loss to their Katipunan rivals, Ateneo, exposed their susceptibility on the boards, where they were outmuscled and outworked, leading to a 57-45 rebound deficit. Coach Tab Baldwin’s astute strategy to contain UP’s long-range shooting limited them to a mere 25% shooting accuracy, effectively neutralizing their primary offensive weapon.
The second-round defeat at the hands of the surging De La Salle Green Archers painted a similar picture. La Salle’s dominance on the glass, particularly on the offensive boards with a 47-42 advantage, disrupted UP’s rhythm and ability to dictate the game. La Salle’s defensive prowess further crippled UP’s perimeter shooting, confining them to a meager 17% shooting rate from beyond the arc. This tactical mastery showcased how suffocating defense and strategic rebounding can nullify UP’s offensive firepower.
The UP Maroons’ strength lies in their shooting abilities, resilience, and adaptability. Despite facing setbacks, they consistently find ways to remain competitive. Even in defeat, their ability to maintain a 45% shooting accuracy against La Salle, with or without key players like JD Cagulangan and Malik Diouf, underscores their depth.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE FINALS
As the two “complete” teams prepare to etch their legacies, the addition of Evan Nelle for La Salle and Malik Diouf for UP will intensify the forthcoming series. Momentum favors La Salle, while UP carries the weight of championship experience.
La Salle’s evolution under the “Coach Topex system” has seen Mark Nonoy elevate his game, rise of Junel Policarpio as a deadly wing that can create mismatches, Raven Cortez’s emergence as an offensive threat in the shaded lane as well as a defensive monster, and the collective team embracing their defined roles.
Most importantly, the Green Archers are peaking just at the right time.
With two squads almost evenly matched. the ANIMO gallery’s support becomes paramount in the finals.
In this crucial juncture, it’s evident that this isn’t the same team UP previously conquered in the FilOil and Season 86 first round. A transformed, cohesive La Salle Green Archers squad is set to contend fiercely for that much-needed win and deliver the crown to a population deprived of victories in the last two decades.
ANIMO LA SALLE!!!