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MANILA, Philippines – After failing to save La Salle’s campaign last year, both Kevin Quiambao and Mike Phillips stayed keen on leading the Green Archers to a deep run this time around.
“For me, I’m quite happy that we reached the Final Four knowing that me and Mike did not play last year,” said Quiambao after La Salle’s thrilling 72-69 escape against Ateneo on Saturday, November 18, which extended La Salle’s hot streak to eight straight wins.
“Since coach Topex (Robinson) handled the program, our level of play drastically improved, we see day by day how he teaches and handles us,” he added.
Both Quiambao (COVID-19) and Phillips (dizziness) were sidelined when the Adamson Soaring Falcons eliminated the Archers, 80-76, in the battle for the last semifinal spot last season.
Since then, the team let go of coach Derick Pumaren and tapped Robinson, who had also found success in the NCAA with San Sebastian and Lyceum.
Quiambao, playing just his second collegiate season, has also emerged as the frontrunner in the Most Valuable Player race, on track to be the first local MVP since 2015.
“There’s still that bitter taste of not making the Final Four last season,” said Phillips, who had an all-around game of 10 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals against Ateneo.
“Mistakes stay as mistakes if we don’t learn from them… we just try to keep this momentum going, everything coach taught us is coming to fruition now.”
La Salle (11-3) – which missed the Final Four in three of the last four seasons – now holds the inside track in the race to the twice-to-beat semifinal advantage, pending the showdown between UP (11-2) and NU (10-3) on the last day of eliminations on Sunday, November 19.
If the Bulldogs eke out a win against UP, it will create a three-way tie at 11-3, but the Green Archers will claim the No. 1 spot due to a superior quotient.
In this scenario, NU and UP will duke it out for the remaining twice-to-beat spot in a virtual best-of-three affair as they will clash again in the Final Four.
Ateneo (7-7), on the other hand, needs to wait for the result of the Adamson-UE battle.
If the Soaring Falcons (6-7) claim victory over the Red Warriors (4-9), the former will force a do-or-die game against the Blue Eagles for the last Final Four seat – just like La Salle’s predicament last season.
“Malayo na, pero malayo pa (We’ve gone far, but not far enough),” said Phillips. — Rappler.com