UAAP Basketball

Final Four chase: La Salle, Adamson serve up another treat

Naveen Ganglani
Final Four chase: La Salle, Adamson serve up another treat

TOSS-UP. La Salle aims to contain Adamson star Jerom Lastimosa.

UAAP

While Adamson knows what it’s getting out of Jerom Lastimosa, La Salle faces one big question – who will be available to play?

MANILA, Philippines – The remaining ticket to the UAAP Final Four in Season 85 men’s basketball will be up for grabs when De La Salle University battles Adamson University in what will potentially be an electrifying matchup to conclude the arms race for championship contention this weekend at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Green Archers and Soaring Falcons figured in two of the more memorable encounters during the elimination round, with Jerom Lastimosa’s heroics spearheading a spirited Adamson comeback triumph in overtime, and CJ Austria knocking in a game-winner at the buzzer which his head coach called a “gift from heaven.”

The winner between the two .500 teams (identical 7-7 records) gets the difficult task of battling an 11-3 Ateneo Blue Eagles squad with a twice-to-beat advantage in the 1-vs-4 series beginning on Wednesday, December 7. 

Though the mountain ahead will be difficult for Sunday’s victor to climb, there’s no questioning the desire both teams will have to prevail in the present, for a variety of reasons. One among them? Pride.

Here are some key information to note heading into this loser-goes-home contest.

Can La Salle contain Lastimosa’s penetration?

Jerom Lastimosa, Adamson’s star who returned from a dislocated foot, recorded a career-high 29 points with 8 assists and 6 rebounds in these two teams’ first-round matchup (pre-injury). He scored against La Salle with ease thanks to his uncanny ability to get in the paint.

The athlete whose co-students now call him “King Falcon” achieved this in transition (bust-out dribbles), by rejecting the ball-screens from his bigs to outwit DLSU’s defenders, and cutting off-ball while the opposing team would fall asleep on defensive assignments.

Being the long-range threat that he is, opposing guards – in this case, Evan Nelle and Deschon Winston – had to respect both his pull-up and attack game. 

Even when Lastimosa wouldn’t score himself, the attention he drew when he got close to the rim enabled kick-outs to downtown shots for his teammates, or easy putbacks for the likes of Lenda Douanga and Cedrick Manzano.

The Soaring Falcons had a combined 32 offensive rebounds and 28 second chance points in both contests against DLSU. 

The Green Archers cannot completely shut down a player of Lastimosa’s caliber, who one might call a natural-born hooper. But making him work hard for each bucket while capitalizing on his giveaways (2.83 a game, seventh-most in the UAAP) could balance the scales.

Turnovers

The turnover battle worked to Adamson’s detriment against La Salle, which, to be fair, leads the league in forcing TOs at 19.4/game.

The Soaring Falcons chalked up the leather a combined 44 times against the Green Archers in the elims, resulting in 39 La Salle points. 

Those turnovers negated the 55-47 and 42-32 rebounding edge Falcons coach Nash Racela’s boys had in each respective contest and allowed DLSU to rally from deficits when Adamson could have pulled away earlier in the game. 

Free throws

Racela, who experienced part of his recent birthday watching Adamson nearly defeat Ateneo for an automatic berth to the Final Four, indicated afterwards that he hopes the free throw disparity against La Salle on Sunday won’t be as hurtful to his squad as it’s been as of late. 

DLSU shot 39-of-59 from the foul stripe in the eliminations against Adamson’s 21-of-32. Last weekend, Ateneo attempted 26 freebies and converted 17. The Soaring Falcons lead all UAAP teams in fouls per game (22.1), almost two more than the next squad on that list (FEU – 20.2).

By taking care of the ball better, the Soaring Falcons could avoid having to foul La Salle when they get on the break, which in turn would prevent an early penalty situation.

Long-range shooting

The Falcons will especially need to avoid these easy chances for the Green Archers to put points on the board if their long-range shootingis somewhere closer to their season average (27.8%) rather than the 17-of-48 (35%) display they had against La Salle. 

Some of that was a product of bad La Salle defense (mistimed traps and slow rotations, prioritizing protecting the rim over the perimeter, and gaps in the press). It’s not impossible for good fortune to strike a third straight time, although it’s safe to say Adamson cannot guarantee similar production from three-point range, which is basketball’s greatest equalizer.

Who will play?

Of course, the biggest question entering this matchup is who will be available for La Salle? 

Deschon Winston, who was on pace to win UAAP MVP before his calf injury (he got hurt in the first matchup vs Adamson), remains questionable as of posting time to play on Sunday. 

There isn’t certainty around La Salle that his calf will completely heal within the next few weeks, but there’s hope Winston might be able to give it a go against the Falcons, even in limited minutes. It is a promising sign for the Green Archers that he’s been participating in training leading up to the KO match.

Michael Phillips, DLSU’s best interior defender, is also questionable with a head injury, according to sources. 

La Salle head coach Derrick Pumaren said last weekend that they are waiting for test results to decide if Phillips will be able to suit up. Michael averaged 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds against Adamson, scoring on an efficient 11-of-16 from the field and 9-of-15 from the foul line.

Kevin Quiambao missed La Salle’s win against UST with a fever. Although unsure to play, there’s hope he might be able available against Adamson. 

The Rookie of the Year shoo-in had a 20-point, 9-rebound, 4-assist outing in the first round against the Falcons, particularly harming them with his playmaking and shot-creation from the baseline.

The injuries have brought confusion for Pumaren, who’s experimentation with his rotation helped spark La Salle’s better performance in the second round. 

Rookie Penny Estacio and the resurgent Mark Nonoy now lead the starting unit while Nelle, Quiambao, and Phillips – the heavy-hitters – come off the bench. CJ Austria, Ben Phillips, Jcee Macalalag, and Earl Abadam have flourished in certain moments with added responsibility, a payoff from extended playing time they had in the preseason.

Leadership

There have been games this season where La Salle would only know who’s available right before tip-off. It looks like that might be the case again on Sunday. 

Either way, the responsibility of leadership and game management will fall in the hands of Nelle, who remains dedicated to his preseason claim that DLSU is the UAAP’s best team. 

The former Red Lion finished with 25 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 dimes against the Growling Tigers, spearheading their comeback from down 69-60 and knocking in a momentum-changing jumper despite getting fouled.

La Salle is still at its best with him as the chief decision-maker in tight-game situations. But given the roster’s current ailments, it’s worth noting that more of those decisions might involve him having to look for his own baskets, like what he did against UST.

The Falcons know what they’re getting out of Lastimosa, and to some degree, Douanga. They’re going to need more – another standout or two – to provide productive minutes and aid in the firepower required to prevail in this type of playoff atmosphere.

The likes of Manzano, Vince Magbuhos, Joshua Yerro, Aaron Flowers, Didat Hanapi, and recently, AP Manlapaz have taken turns playing that supportive role. The Soaring Falcons should feel confident a player or two from that list will be effective, a staple of a Racela-coached team.

There are many more layers to unpack between these two squads that play fairly equal to each other, although the game will ultimately come down to who executes better down the stretch when the pressure reaches its highest.

La Salle has recent experience, having played in the Final Four against UP back in May and winning the PBA D-League finals. But Adamson doesn’t strike as a team with the personality of folding when the going gets tough.

The team that commits less self-inflicted mistakes (taking care of the ball, converting free throws, and creating multiple possessions) tend to win these contests. Both La Salle and Adamson have had stretches where they can achieve those tasks and also falter at doing them. 

The fate of the last semifinal spot could very well come down to one final shot, which has already happened quite a few times in the UAAP Final Four and between these two specific squads.

It looks like everybody is in for a treat. – Rappler.com

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HIGHLIGHTS: La Salle vs Adamson, UAAP Season 85 Final Four playoff

HIGHLIGHTS: La Salle vs Adamson, UAAP Season 85 Final Four playoff

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