De La Salle puts UAAP rivals on notice
MANILA, Philippines - As La Salle coughed up another turnover, Chris Newsome led the charge on the break. Hounded by foul trouble early, the Ateneo stalwart was a man on a mission in the fourth quarter, and his easy layup in transition gave the Blue Eagles their first taste of the lead since the score read 2-0. On Sunday, August 17, Ateneo appeared once again to be on pace to complete another come-from-behind win.
DLSU, fatigued by their short rotation thanks to injuries to key guys, seemed to be slipping, as the offense turned to shambles. It looked like the Green Archers would surrender another game to their Katipunan-based rivals, while the side of the Smart-Araneta Coliseum shadowed in blue turned into a ruckus.
But DLSU had an answer. With Jeron Teng covered by guys in blue and white wherever he turned, rookies Prince Rivero and Julian Sargent stepped up to the task by getting to the foul line, forcing Blue Eagle miscues on defense, and converting easy transition baskets of their own. In the blink of an eye, La Salle was back ahead by three, and after Sargent hit a corner 3-ball later on, they were up by four, 81-77, with their fans eagerly anticipating a celebration for their victory over the hated Blue Eagles.
And even after ADMU managed to tie the game once again, the Green Archers' responded with their big guns stepping up by putting the finishing touches on the ballgame. Teng sank free throw after free throw while Jason Perkins abused any sort of defense Coach Bo Perasol threw his way. Not long after, the final buzzer sounded, with La Salle victorious. The champions had struck back.
"Very well fought between the two sides, which was what was expected," DLSU head coach Juno Sauler indicated after the game.
Their victory pushed the defending champions to the top of the UAAP league standings, tied at 6-2 with Ateneo and FEU, pushing their winning streak to six after starting the season with two consecutive defeats - the latter of which against Ateneo came in embarrassing fashion.
"I'm not thinking of the standing at this point and the streak," Sauler insisted in the post-game media session.
If the above is true then there's no question vengeance was on their mind. Teng, in particular, was locked and loaded from the get-go. Even if he didn't verbalize them, his intentions were clear from his play early on. This wasn't another typical game; Teng was out for retribution.
"Yung first half, I saw openings for me, that's why I took it. Pero nung (but during the) second half, nag-adjust yung defense nila (their defense adjusted) and I also had to adjust, so I tried looking for open teammates,” said Teng.
Teng torched Newsome and Ateneo for 15 points in the first quarter, 21 in the first half. He went on to finish with 32 in total to go with 6 boards and 5 dimes, while outplaying his chief competition for the MVP award, Kiefer Ravena, who tallied 22, 6 and 6.
But looking past the statistics, it was how each guy played down the stretch that portrayed a bigger role in dictating the outcome of the game. While Ravena's tired legs resulted in consecutive air-ball jumpers over double teams, Teng managed to attract multiple defenders and find his open comrades, yielding easy baskets for De La Salle.
"The reason why they were able to score, like what Jeron said, defense started to adjust on Jeron in the second half and he made very good reads. He involved his teammates. I remember one [where] he was doubled early, somewhere in the midcourt…then he just made the pass to Julian," Sauler commended the unselfish play of his best player after the contest.
Teng, who for the past two seasons did not break the 60 percent clip free throw shooting, went 17-of-20 from the charity stripe that night and has gone 27-of-31 in his past two games. His FT shooting for the season has increased to 74 percent, one of the best in the league. Needless to say, he's come a long way from fighting demons at the line. No longer can squads go the route of "Hack-a-Jeron." At least not in this moment.
"I just really work on my free throws because I know every game I take a lot of free throws," Teng explained after the contest. "Continuously, I practice my free throws."
Part of the reason why Ravena, despite the high statistics, was hindered to just 8-of-23 shooting was because of Sargent, whose long wingspan limited the production of the Ateneo star, and reserve Robert Bolick, who contributed on both sides of the floor.
“I’m just going to be on his face," Bolick explained his mentality of guarding Ravena, who gave credit to the defensive effort of Sargent and Bolick. "Whatever happens, I don't care if Ateneo hates me, how I defend him, basta (as long as) I'm doing it for La Salle."
“I’m just going to be on his face. Whatever happens, I don't care if Ateneo hates me, how I defend [Ravena], basta I'm doing it for La Salle."
Bolick finished with 10 points - one more than he had scored his entire UAAP career before entering Sunday's blockbuster duel. "Hard work. I've been working on my shot, defense, in a day-to-day-basis," he shared later on.
A Prince on the rise
While the absence of Arnold Van Opstal has forced Coach Sauler to tweak his rotation, it's also opened up the opportunity for rookie Prince Rivero to display his potential with more minutes. Sunday was no different, as Rivero registered 9 points and 5 boards, while providing much-needed energy for the undermanned Green Archers.
The last time Ateneo battled La Salle, Arvin Tolentino was the clear-cut top choice for Rookie of the Year. But after the second match between both sides, in which the DLSU newcomer outplayed the one from ADMU, it's no secret Rivero is hot on his heels.
"Siguro fruits of my labor lang. Kasi I work a lot. So, hindi naman pwede wala siyang kapalit na maganda, kasi lahat nag pinapagtrabuhan, makakakuha tayo nang blessing. So I keep working on my game lang," the meek young star expressed after the game.
(I guess it's just the fruits of my labor because I work a lot, which should yield good results in return, because everything you work hard for is returned with blessings. So I just keep working on my game.)
While the ROY race should be interesting to monitor, both guys have made it known that they prefer to contribute in ways to help their teams collect wins. Rivero, for his part, said that whatever Coach Sauler will instruct of him, before and after Van Opstal returns, is what he will work on - not any individual award.
"Kanina, yung pinagawa lang saakin nang coaches ko kanina sa game, yun lang yung inimplement ko kanina sa game," the former NCAA juniors MVP noted. " Kung ano role ibibigay saakin, duon ako mag sti-stick," he also said.
(Earlier, what my coaches asked me to do, that's what I contributed. Whatever role is given to me, that's where I'll stick.)
"I feel blessed lang, thankful to God."
Sauler won't put much light to it because he wants his boys to remain motivated, but it's difficult not to notice that La Salle is the hottest team in the UAAP today. With six straight wins despite key injuries, the team has managed to buck their slow start to the season and early challenges, and should only become more threatening once injured guys like Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, Kib Montalbo, and Thomas Torres return to top shape.
And in terms of remaining focused, Sauler need not to worry, he admitted. Not when his best player on the floor also makes sure the Green Archers never skip a beat. And especially not when the bond between the guys in the roster continues to grow stronger by the day.
"We don't look at teams," Sauler responded when asked about his thoughts of their next opponent, the 1-7 UP Fighting Maroons. "Our attitude is always the same. And Jeron sees to that - he's our team captain, he's been the leader for the team, and he makes sure that everyone's focused. He helps us a lot in that department."
"Actually lahat nang seniors namin, lahat kami, nagtutulungan sa loob nang court," added Rivero. "Kahit rin sa labas nang court, kailangan team kami. Kasi nagbubuo kami nang bond, hindi lang as a team, as brothers na rin, as a family."
(All of our seniors, the entire team, we help each other out on the court. Even outside the court, we need to be a team, because we're creating a bond, not just as a team, but as brothers as well, as a family.)
That "family" is only getting more dangerous. Sunday's encounter with the Blue Eagles served as a reminder how good La Salle can be, and who the UAAP really needs to get through to win the title.
With Teng playing the best ball of his college career, Rivero impacting the game in multiple ways as a rookie, key reserves like Bolick and Sargent playing huge roles, and other contributors still set to return from injuries, the Green Archers are starting to the lethal version of themselves their rivals branded them out to be during the preseason.
On Sunday, the Green Archers struck back at their rivals.
But most of all, they sent a message pretty clear: the UAAP goes through De La Salle University. - Rappler.com