If you asked Edward Perlas, founder of Greenarchers.ph, last July what he thought the chances of the DLSU team in Season 73, he would’ve said he gave the team no chance to reach the Final Four. Convinced that the team was still reeling from the effects of suspension as far back as 2006, he saw little chance it could recoup even now, 3 years later. “The aftermath was not felt immediately but it sure seems to be now. If we look closely, the suspension did have its pluses in the short term but the tradeoff in the long run affected the overall balance of the team today.”, he said. “This year, there are no role models or leaders for our players to emulate or learn from. It’s almost like the more senior players have to learn how to be leaders all from scratch. We have gifted players, but talent or experience does not necessarily translate to leadership. Leaders naturally want to lead, but they must learn leadership from those who have been leaders, what works and what doesn’t, what to do and what not to do.”
I could not agree more. One cannot ‘take a picture’ of a team one year and assume it has all the tools it needs to pursue a Championship. The experiences of teams past form an integral part of what shapes its future, and a hiccup, such as the ’06 suspension, creates a hole in that past that will take some difficulty to counteract. “In the past, it took at least 2 years for leaders-in-waiting to gain enough experience and confidence under the mentorship of veterans before they could assume the role of team leader. Players like Joseph Yeo, Macmac Cardona, and Junjun Cabatu played in the shadows of more experienced teammates before they could effectively act as coaches-on-the-floor in their final playing years. While they were gifted and showed their potential in their early years, they did not lead until they had accumulated enough experience and judgment to gain the trust of their fellow Archers.”, Perlas explains.
Just the same, Perlas and the great green mass of DLSU followers were hopeful and watched with interest. July saw DLSU win 3 games out of 5, two of which by as much as 18 against UP (62 – 80) and 19 against UE (82-63). Losses however, were close, with only a 4 pt. difference against NU (55-59) and FEU (84-80). The first game against UP raised hopes given UP had such a high profile coming into the Season. Woody Co and Mike Silungan topscored for UP both with 17 pts., but Atkins lead DLSU with 20 with Marata and Villanueva both in double figures with 10 and 19 apiece. Atkins scorched with 44% from the 3pt line, converting 4 of 9. Steals was the stat to watch, with DLSU’s swiping 6 against UP’s 2, and UP obliging with 21 turnovers. Rebounding was steadily improving and the team lead 3 of 5 games in steals, it’s banner statistic, tying UE once with 6 apiece and making 2 less than ADMU.
Naturally the win against ADMU via Game #14, their first after 6 straight losses dating back to 2008 served as both a breath of relief and a much needed shot in the arm. The eventual Champion Eagles, whom with their powerful lineup overshadowed DLSU’s at nearly every position, were the solid favourites for the year along with FEU. That particular win was sweet as it broke a string of losses that stretched across 3 seasons of futility, and when the team raised their arms in victory after one of the more exciting games of the Season, DLSU pride was loud, strong, and ‘in da house’.
Things were actually looking good, and the hopeful were, well, hoping a little easier.
The 2nd month of the Season saw the natural order of things fall into place, so to speak. The stronger teams started to get into their stride and stamp their class on the rest of the league, with ADMU and FEU disposing of opponents in the manner everyone expected them to. Meanwhile, the rest of the teams were still deciding amongst themselves who were worthy of playing with the big boys and who were pretenders. DLSU would play close games via a win against UST (61-53), a loss against Adamson (68-70), and another win against NU (56-59). It was clear that other than FEU, ADMU and possibly Adamson, the rest of the league were still trying to find their way around.
Of the negatives, DLSU’s atrocious freethrow shooting was taking a toll. And when they met against ADMU for their 2ndmatchup of the season, the freethrow line, a monster insofar as the team was concerned, reared it’s ugly head. They shot a spectacularly bad 15 of 29 for 51% as a team, the lost 14 pts. from that effort certainly not enough to counter their eventual 17 pt. loss (57-74), but still an unacceptable number. The one shining light in that game was 6’4 power forward Mark Jovet Mendoza, who scored 20 strong points, grabbed 6 boards and even shot 83% from the line (10 of 12). His performance stood out even more given the fact no other DLSU player scored in double figures, and he was able to produce those stats in only 16 minutes of play.
Less alarming but also a factor were the apparent lack of steadiness in closing out games, in particular during a close loss to Adamson (68-70). Defense, while strong in the earlier quarters, allowed the Falcons to come back in the fourth and eventually score 70 points, the most points the team has given up so far. AdU gained the lead in the final 3 minutes, and never gave it back. Clearly, the lack of reliability was starting to tell right in the middle of the season.
Of the positives however, DLSU beat FEU at the 44th game of the Season, and via a 14 pt. thrashing (80-66) at that. A fantastic thrashing of the powerful and eventual First Runner Up Tamaraws that no one would have believed if they didn’t see it. This provided a second resurgence of positivity about the team for the season. The first, when they beat ADMU the first time. Despite playing FEU nearly to a standstill in the 3pt. and field goal percentage, and even getting outblocked at 10 vs. 4, DLSU made 10 more offensive rebounds (8-18), less turnovers (19-16) and actually shot 3 more freethrows as well (20-17, both with 26 attempts). Strong defense throughout the game did FEU in, with eventual MVP RR Garcia even held to 0 points in the fourth quarter. Luigi de la Paz, a 5’11 rookie guard from DLSZ was impressive with 12 pts. In 26 mins, second only to veteran Atkins and one of only 3 in double figures for the team.
For the other games, DLSU avenged an earlier season loss to NU (56-59). That game’s numbers belie a bad game with low percentages for both teams (27% for DLSU and 32% for NU) and equally atrocious shooting from the freethrow line (41% for DLSU and slightly better 64% for AdU). DLSU was even outrebounded, but managed to squeak out a win anyway, and no team is going to deny itself a win if it can get one.
Against UP, DLSU never looked back from the first quarter. They outstole (6-9), outrebounded (49-44), and gave the ball up less (17-22).
The first game this month featured a DLSU 69-78 win against UST, and the Tigers were plainly outmatched. DLSU passed the ball 9 times more (9 vs. 18 assists) and virtually left them eating their dust. Webb finally broke out of a slump and had a great game with 14 pts. in 19 minutes with a perfect 5-5 FG percentage. Ferdinand finally scored 7 points and grabbed 5 boards, with Atkins and Maui Villanueva providing the rest of the double digit scoring with 14 and 11 respectively. With this game, DLSU snuffed out all UST’s chances had at reaching the Final Four, while conversely propelling itself amongst the last teams standing.
Whatever momentum DLSU gathered from the previous game however, were mercilessly taken away from them following a 80-74 thrashing from UE, effectively removing an opportunity at a twice to beat advantage. The Red Warriors came out with more fire in the latter part of the game and DLSU played to UE’s beat. While the Archers passed the ball around more (17-11 assists), we were outblocked (6-5), lost the ball more (18 vs 13 turnovers), and again, shot poorly from the line (47% vs. UE’s amazing 88%). The indefatigable Paul Lee had his way with anyone guarding him as usual, torching the hoop with 19pts., and pretty much going anywhere he wanted.
Regardless, DLSU was in the Final Four. Already an unexpected achievement given the circumstances of several new players plus a new coach, and far exceeding anyone’s expectation just a few weeks ago. While no one was delusional enough to think this team was of Championship calibre, their performance still spoke well of a team that frankly, never looked like it would come close. The realization that the team was amongst the top four best in the league seemed almost like a dream. No one was celebrating in the streets of course, yet the achievement nonetheless inspired and made long time fans proud.
AdU loomed however. The team DLSU had yet to beat, and eventually was never able to. And in a roller coaster affair, AdU arose triumphant (69-64), fixing it so DLSU had #4 position, to go up against #1 FEU. DLSU had a chance still to make a game of it, but ineffective execution plus freethrows, their old waterloo, did them in, as they once again shot themselves in the foot with a poor 47% against AdU’s 54%. The highlights of the game however, were provided by Andrada’s amazing 10 rebound and 5 block performance, all in spectacular fashion as blocks by Centers are wont to be. Five blocks is nothing to sneeze at. Five blocks is indicative of an up and coming defensive monster, a potential Andrada has yet to reach but every year is coming ever so close to.
Once again the realization of 4th in the Final Four didn’t dishearten anyone. Rather, most fans felt quite happy with the result. While AdU qualifies as a genuine ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’, a Final Four position was still a Final Four position, and especially meaningful for this team.
The Final Game
FEU scored 69 vs. DLSU’s 59 in an overtime win, with Garcia, Sanga and Romeo scoring 11, 12 and 12 respectively. Cervantes was unstoppable on the boards, grabbing 19 rebounds and FEU outrebounding DLSU 57-44 altogether. While no one scored in double figures for DLSU, team defense held the team together way into the end of the first half. The Tamaraws suffered from foul trouble early, hurting themselves more when Cawaling was ejected for a foul on Atkins. The third quarter worked itself to a draw, 4th quarter was the Tamaraws’, with Sanga shooting a three to tie it 55 all with 27 seconds left. A botched play and a miss by DLSU ensued, bringing the game to nail – biting overtime.
The regular period may be exciting, but it’s overtime where men are separated from boys, and DLSU’s inexperience told on them at this point. FEU turned on the points like the veteran team that they are, while the Archers missed three after three, closing the lid on their season.
After the end of a long road, the DLSU team gave its fans a fourth place finish that was far more than anyone expected, and fans were grateful. Even Gang Green leader Rudy Reyes himself said that he was happy with the finish, especially in the light of the 6th place finish of last year. “We’re all proud of this year’s team. No one expected this from them, and while we’re committed to cheer for them no matter what, watching them come out with effort made it all the more easier.”
No truer words could have been said.