by Neal Tieng
College basketball’s biggest stage finally opened after a two-year hiatus, but this opening was radically different from previous years. It kicked off minus the crowds, in-stadium excitement, cheers and noise that typically accompany the UAAP’s opening day.
The new-look De La Salle Green Archers welcomed the brand-new season with a 71-66 win over the University of the East Warriors last March 26, 2022, at the MOA Arena.
And it was a big welcome party for the former point guard of Central Michigan University Deschon Winston led the offensive attack 22 points, 6 rebounds and 3 interceptions and dazzled the Animo nation with his incredible ball control and very smooth midrange jumper.
With Winston effective on both ends of the floor, the Green Archers survived losing an 18-point lead at the start of the third quarter and sailed home with win number 1.
After a jittery first quarter, La Salle got synced defensively and forced UE to late shot clock panic shots and forced the Warriors to exclusively live from three-point region. Combine La Salle’s tight defense suffocating the Red Warriors’ offensive flow and Winston turning it on offensively, the Green Archers went on a 11-1 run that turned a tight 30-25 game into a 41-26 lead with two minutes to go in the half.
The Red Warriors refused to call it a game. Despite being forced to take last second shots due to tight defensive rotations, UE kept it close by draining panic threes after panic threes. From 18, the Warriors cut the deficit to 4, 65-61 with 3:55 left in the game.
A floater from Nelle and a triple from Winston pushed the Archers back to a seven-point lead that preserved win number one.
LA SALLE’S DEFENSE IS STELLAR.
From the press that drained half of the shot clock away to closing out on lane incursions, the green and white defense jammed every UE option and forced them to shoot 34 of their 63 shot attempts from deep. The defense was so tight that it did not allow expected Recto offensive options to go off.
THESE ROOKES ARE GOOD
Schonny Winston’s stellar play highlighted the Green Archers’ rookie class but the others showed a lot of promise. Michael and Ben Philips shut down the lane and had promising spurts on the offensive end. Both athletic and would be good options once they settle down.
VETERANS ARE DELIVERING
Balti Baltazar is steady as ever delivering a double-double with 12 points while grabbing 11 boards. Evan Nelle provided the spark that hallmarked his stellar NCAA career with his shot creation and scoring under duress. Nelle finished the game with 11 points, 4 steals and 3 dimes. Kurt Lojera, who did not see much action in Season 82, became a defensive weapon especially on perimeter close outs and a solid option on offense. Lojera finished the game with 6 points, 4 rebounds to go with 1 block and 1 interception.
For one, UE has no import, and it is a program rebounding from a turmoil with their starting line-up almost all were new. With a much taller lineup, La Salle was expected to walk over UE. But the cake walk turned into a tight rope walk late in the game as turnovers allowed UE some fastbreak points that kept the game close.
LONG REBOUNDS AND THOSE 50-50 BALLS.
Long shot equals long rebounds. Since UE was heaving helplessly from afar, Recto rebound snatchers were also able to out hustle their Taft counterparts in the third and fourth.
STILL TOO MANY TURNOVERS.
La Salle brought the aggression with their full court press that forced UE to 20 turnovers. But the Green Archers also turned it over 19 times.
FIRST GAME THOUGHTS
The Green Archers definitely improved their bench depth and defense. With Mark Nonoy expected to suit up in the coming games, La Salle would have a solid guard rotation with Winston, Nelle and Nonoy.
Bright Nwankwo is still a work-in-progress while Michael and Benjamin Philips need to shrug off the jitters. Add Baltazar into the mix and you have very tall, and on paper, a very strong frontline defense. A brand of defense that can take away opponent’s inside game with their sheer length and heft.
With NU next on the slate, expect less jitters as the players settle down and the players become more familiar and comfortable with each other.
ANIMO LA SALLE!
All photos courtesy of the UAAP Media Group.