MANILA, Philippines – At this point, everyone is aware of how good the La Salle Green Archers are. That includes the team itself, which knows it is capable of defeating any adversaries that come its way.
But the question with La Salle isn’t the talent, the heart, the camaraderie, or even the fit. It’s the consistency.
It’s the same issue which halted the Green Archers just a few months ago.
And again, very recently.
The past week has been a prolific example.
La Salle defeated rival Ateneo last October 9 in a heated neck-and-neck battle which was reminiscent of a Final Four or Finals encounter. Perhaps even a preview of what’s to come.
But the Green Archers followed that with a lackadaisical showing against the University of the East, a game which in theory they should have won.
“I didn’t say anything,” head coach Derrick Pumaren recalled the locker room scene post-defeat. He was already unwell that day, a feeling only heightened by the final result.
“There was no talk. I just wanted to let them think of what happened.”
The lessons from the loss marinated well within the Green Archers, who responded to Pumaren’s order that they come out “smoking” by dealing FEU an 87-70 beatdown.
Facing a familiar rival of theirs, La Salle, now 3-2, raced off to an early double-digit lead and didn’t look back the rest of the way. The Green Archers’ physicality, execution, and experience were too strong a combination for the winless Tamaraws to handle.
It was a one-sided showdown which saw the disparity in current performance between the two teams, which, in the recent years, had shared similar results.
If the victory against Ateneo displayed La Salle’s ability to prevail in the heat of battle, and if the downfall to the Red Warriors showed the Green Archers’ mannerism of playing down to competition, then their rout of the FEU proved their potential explosiveness.
La Salle shot 40% from the field, went an effective 20-of-24 at the foul line, won the rebounding battle 56-36, and recorded 29 assists, 12 of which were dished out by returning floor general Evan Nelle.
“They were able to soak on the loss and we were able to bounce back today,” Pumaren said.
Deschon Winston continues to have a campaign that’s garnering support for MVP consideration. He’s now averaging 24 points, 7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 3.2 steals with shooting splits of 48.4% from the field, 43.5% from three-point land, and 76.9% from the free throw line.
Not even former UAAP greats Kiefer Ravena and Terrence Romeo had those numbers and efficiency during their respective MVP campaigns.
As the first round comes near to a close, it’s fair to wonder if Winston’s shooting numbers will remain at a similar trajectory or eventually regress to a median with his 40% shooting from last season, which was only a few months ago.
But Winston did share during the offseason that he used the months in between Season 84 and 85 to refine his jumper, work on his body, study tape of this country’s allowed physicality in basketball, and play more in tournaments.
There’s a chance this could be Winston 2.0, a refined version of the raw talent we saw prior.
Raven Cortez also played well, earning the respect of his head coach afterwards. With starting big Michael Phillips nursing a tight hamstring, the former De La Salle-Zobel product used the extra minutes to display his potential, which includes some floor spreading, solid rim protection, and smart hustle play.
“Raven has been stepping up, even against Ateneo,” Pumaren said. “He’s still young but he’s got a lot of potential. The upside is very high. He’s been showing it. Even in Japan (for preseason), he was able to handle big men (imports).”
It’s not every day a freshman records 6 blocks in only his fifth UAAP appearance.
“We showed grit. We showed we have to dig deep to get rebounds. They have to want it more and they showed it today,” said Pumaren, who was unable to attend practices in the last two days as he recuperated.
La Salle now moves on to its biggest test so far in UAAP Season 85: the feisty, talented, and motivated National University Bulldogs. Whether surprising or not, NU is making a case for itself in the title talks.
The Bulldogs want to prove they belong in that echelon, which would require defeating the perceived favorites of the league. They failed against Ateneo but succeeded against the University of the Philippines; La Salle now takes bat.
“How can we take NU lightly?” Pumaren said, almost as a warning to his boys.
“They’ve really learned the system of coach Jeff [Napa], so we should be ready for them. Hopefully the UE loss will be a big lesson.”
As Winston described it himself, “[We] have to come out and battle every night and be prepared for a dogfight.”
A dogfight is what they’re going to get. – Rappler.com