The View From the Armchair – First Two Games


Welcome back to the UAAP, Green Archers!

The new-look Green Archers formally made their long-awaited debut last Saturday, featuring almost unrecognizable lineup. Gone were former mainstays Andrei Caracut, Aljun Melecio, Brandon Bates, Encho Serrano, Jamie Malonzo, Tyus Hill, Jordan Bartlett, and Joel Cagulangan.

In their place are Evan Nelle, Mark Nonoy, the brothers Phillips – Michael and Benjamin, Deschon Winston, Penny Estacio, Deo Cuajao, JC Macalalag, JC Austria, Eman Galman, Kurt Lojera, Raven Cortez, Aaron Buensalida, Paul Turco, and Bringht Nwankwo. Some holdovers from the previous UAAP edition are Justine Baltazar, Francis Escandor, Ralph Cu, and Donn Lim.

Perhaps the most significant addition is Coach Derek Pumaren, our balik-coach who gave DLSU its first-ever championship in the late 80s.

New faces, new season, new coach.

Unfortunately, Coach Derek never had a chance to coach this team in person until just a few months ago, no in-person workouts, no scrimmages, just a couple of pre-season tuneup games. No real chance for the players to get to know each other on the court.

Also a new environment. For the first time, the UAAP opened minus the traditional in-venue fanfare, noise and pomp, and ‘palabas’ that have characterized all the previous seasons. A break in tradition, if you will, but, something necessitated by the covid situation.

Things change, dictated by stuff outside our control. But the UAAP, like most of us, adapted. They’re being careful to make sure that the tournament doesn’t become a super-spreader. So the first round is closed doors. No risk. Trust La Salle to see to that.

After 2 games, the season so far

Two games. Two wins – over UE (71-66) last weekend, and over NU (59-55) yesterday. The Archers share the top of the leader board with defending champs Ateneo.

Not bad. That looks like a promising start.

But reality check – the first two opponents are not considered as serious contenders this season. Not yet anyway.

The win against UE Warriors was the first real action in a green shirt for most of our new players. It showed.

Against UE

On paper, the Archers were favored against the importless Warriors, particularly in the paint where the smaller UE team wasn’t supposed to be able to match up. The rebounding battle was supposed to be lopsided in our favor, but that didn’t happen. We edged UE only by 1, 43-42, and allowed the spunky Warriors to grab 17 offensive boards. UE made only 23 out of 63 field goals, so there were a lot of boards to be had, and with our higher ceiling, we should have dominated that aspect. That’s one area where Derek and his lieutenants need to focus on.

Winston was a revelation in his first official game – topscored with 22 points on 7/13 field goals and 5/6 free throws to go with 6 rebounds in 32 minutes. Baltazar showed his wares in the first half en route to a double-double performance with 12 points and 12 boards and 2 assists. Balti’s performance was a bit understated, as he was probably trying to get his teammates involved as opposed to trying to do things by himself.

Nelle also served as a sparkplug for the Archers, finishing with 12 points, and 3 assists as he drove the offense and pestered his counterparts with 4 steals. Veteran Kurt Lojera was steady in limited minutes, as were the Phillips brothers. Nwankwo displayed his size and heft, also scored in double digits with 10 points and pulled down 8 rebounds, but showed that he still has a way to go.

The game featured Archer bursts where they threatened to blow the game out, but also lulls, where UE was faster to the ball. The Warriors were pressured by the pressing La Salle defense, but managed to hit several bail-out triples as they frantically found gaps in the perimeter. UE ended up with 10 treys.

Interestingly, UE was coached by former Green Archer assistant coach Jack Santiago, but he was unable to use his past knowledge of the Pumaren game into an effective game strategy. He did, however, get his team to keep it close at the end.

Against NU

NU won their first game against 71-69, and had an import, so this was supposed to be a fairly even game. Now coached by Jeff Napa, NU also had the ceiling to match with the Archer frontline, and was led by veterans Joson, Clemente, import Issa Gaye, and Shaun Ildefonso.

Living up to their monicker, NU doggedly kept it close, not allowing the Archers to dominate any single aspect of the game. They even out-rebounded La sale, 48-44, and muzzled Green Archer game 1 top scorer Winston into a quiet 2 point, 4 rebound, 3 steal performance. Nelle was also closely marked, limiting him to just 5 points on 1/7 shooting from the floor. Nwankwo struggled, contributed only 6 boards and no points in just 14 minutes. His slot was taken by the brothers Philips: Michael played 23 minutes and hauled down 11 rebounds and tallied 3 points, while Benjamin contributed a rebound in 7 minutes.

Clearly NU did their homework.

But Mark Nonoy, our prized transferee from UST, showed up after being held out in the first game due to injury. He quickly showed why he is such a valued addition, hitting his first triple on a pull-up jumper on the break before ending with 13 points. His 4/11 shooting clip showed that he was probably a bit too eager, but his energy and speed were notable. The unheralded Austria showed why Derek gives him minutes, hitting 10 points and providing plenty of hustle.

Our resident PBA-in-waiting big, Baltazar, logged the most minutes with 35, might have deferred to his teammates more than necessary, but showed why he is the backbone of the team as he pumped in most of his points in the closing quarter. Perhaps not as dominating as we’d like, but he delivered when he was needed to close out the game.

Only Nonoy and Balti scored in the 4th quarter, underscoring their importance tot he team.

In a sharp contrast to the first game where they made just 2, the Green Archers sank 8 triples out of 24 tries, putting to bed the notion that they don’t aren’t an outside threat. Nonoy hit 3/8, Austria went 2/2, and Manuel made 2/3, and Nelle nailed one. Opponents can’t sag all the time when the Archers have shooters on the floor.

What to make of the first two games

Not much. This Archer team is very much a work-in-progress. They have lots of individual talent, but have not yet meshed in the short time they’ve been together. Derek may be good, but he’s not a magician, so the 2 wins are not a good indication of how good or bad the team is.

The few holdovers will not have much “corporate knowledge” in the system, because most of the players are new, as is the coach and system. Virtual sessions do not make up for on-court familiarity.

A couple of stats point to the lack of match (and practice) exposure – turnovers and free throws, which are traditional Archer weaknesses. 19 turnovers in game 1 and 15 in game 2 led to 16 points of turnovers by UE and 8 for UE. Free throws usually are automatic, and rely on practice and muscle memory, but against NU, we only made 9/14 for 64%, and against UE, we tallied only 9/17 (53%). We’re leaving points on the foul line.

We have a fairly high ceiling height-wise, but haven’t been able to rule the boards yet. Nwankwo is big, but doesn’t play his height, doesn’t look like his in shape yet, and occasionally gets lost in the fast-paced shuffle that our opponents have employed in the first two games.

The Phillips brothers are tall and eager, crash the boards, but aren’t offensive threats yet. Michael seems a bit more polished of the two, has a good nose for the rebounds, and isn’t afraid to contest any shot in the paint. Both are probably at the same stage or better than Bates when he first played with us, but look at how Bates played in the last season. They seem to have the same potential, so let’s hope that Derek and his assistants can bring out that potential.

You can probably say that we have “big projects” lined up. That’s one way to put it.

What’s next?

We play FEU next. FEU is a well-trained team with shooters, and they’re not afraid to let it fly. They are led by Abarrientos, who might need some special plans to prevent him from stuffing the stat sheet.

UP and Ateneo are rated higher than us unofficially. Aside from FEU, those teams will be the real tests.

There are 12 more games to watch and enjoy.

Food for thought – Season 85 is tentatively scheduled for late 3rd quarter this year. That’s just a few months away. This Season 84 might just be considered as a tuneup for the next season – strange concept, but true.


All photos courtesy of the UAAP Media Group

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