Both the De La Salle Green Archers and the Ateneo Blue Eagles are riding on stellar win streaks as of the moment. The Archers won three straight, beating Adamson, FEU, and UP while the Eagles won five straight, beating UP (twice), UST, Adamson, and FEU. Both are currently tied for third in the team standings with a 6-4 record. The magnitude and importance of the game on Sunday will be much, much higher compared to their first round encounter where La Salle was sporting a 1-1 win-loss record while Ateneo was still winless at 0-2.
Kiefer Ravena has played since and has showed that he is indeed the leader of this Blue Eagles squad looking for their sixth straight UAAP men’s basketball title. He may not score as much as he would have wanted but his presence inside the court is just enough to lift the game of his other teammates on both ends of the floor. He still commands respect defensively from opposing teams and that leaves Juami Tiongson, Ryan, Buenafe, Chris Newsome, and Von Pessumal to play their normal roles plugging the gaps and killing the other teams offensively.
What I noticed in Ateneo’s winning run was they get their energy flowing once they keep on hitting those perimeter jumpers, from mid-range, extending to the three-point area. Their ball rotation is working well for them finding open guys to make those baskets from the outside. Ravena and Buenafe are their primary post ball handlers. Both players are doing a good job so far of being patient in their offensive sets, waiting for the defense to double team them, then the ball rotates until an open man attempts a perimeter shot.
Both players can also score individually so that’s another option for the Blue Eagles. Once the kick out works, if the defender closes in to a perimeter player who catches the ball, for example, Tiongson, Juami can dribble drive to the basket for a drop pass or another kick out to an open shooter in the perimeter, or make a shot of his own. This is what Ateneo has been doing repeatedly this season on offense and it seems that the personnel that Coach Bo has, fits on the system that he runs at the moment. I gave emphasis on this because I believe that La Salle’s defense will be critical to getting a win on Sunday.
Much has been said about how La Salle can just simply pound the ball inside to Norbert, Jason, and Arnold, just like what the Green Archers did back in the first round, and sending one Ateneo player after another back to the bench due to fouling out of the ball game. But if the Green Archers will be stellar defensively, it will be better rather than putting much emphasis on half court sets. It’s easier to score fastbreak points rather than bleeding for half court set points, but that’s just my basketball thinking. Going back, the Green Archers’ both team and individual defense will be tested on Sunday.
It’s easier said than done to stop Ravena or Buenafe when they do post up one on one but depending on the strategies, if La Salle can stay and make these two attempt tough shots down low, it will be better rather than giving Ateneo an option to rotate the ball and create for their other teammates. Second, communication is also important so that the proper man rotations defensively will be executed. La Salle’s height advantage should be put into full advantage getting those rebounds then issuing those outlet passes for easy baskets.
If the Green Archers can get their acts going defensively, I think this will set a better tone on their offense later on. I expect Tampus to have his hands full on Ravena, Vosotros will have his turn as well, possibly Bolick, too. Other teams are trying to put too much emphasis on giving it to their player that Vosotros is guarding on defense to take advantage of this mismatch down low. This is a double-edged sword actually. Yes, opposing teams can possibly score on this mismatch on Almond down low but it also takes away the normal offensive routine that opposing teams have been employing.
It was quite evident that other teams failed and ended up frustrated at times since they cannot take advantage of this mismatch that much down low and eventually, when they run their normal offensive sets, the execution is not there anymore for La Salle’s opponents. Just look at Almond’s match ups in the past three games that had kept on trying to always run their offensive sets at the post: Trollano of Adamson, Wong and Lao of UP, and Tolomia and Romeo for FEU. I also expect Ateneo to do the same tomorrow but I am confident that the coaching staff has already done their homework on how to address this area in the ballgame.
Other talking points for the game on Sunday are still Ateneo trying to pressure our guards who are trying to make those entry passes to Norbert, Jason, and Arnold and also expect Ateneo’s big men to try to pull a trick or two from the professional players’ playbook on how to make it hard for La Salle’s big men to get the ball in a comfortable position. Personally I expect variations on how Norbert, Jason, and Arnold will get that ball down low and of course, La Salle’s perimeter guys should be ready to create once Ateneo’s defense collapses inside.
Kib will have a special mention here since Thomas will be out on Sunday. Not to put that much pressure but he will be expected to continue his stellar play in the past three games that he played in the second round. This could be one of the biggest games that Kib will play in his rookie season due to the importance of this game on Sunday. His offensive creativity will come handy to help the ball move as soon as the post option gets derailed. I also would like to commend LA Revilla and I hope that he continues his good playmaking and decision-making on the floor in the past three games. LA has been focusing on ball distribution and shot-creation in this Green Archer-win streak instead of minding his own points, just as what a true point guard should do.
Overall, it will be an exciting match on Sunday for sure. This could be the true measure of both teams this season as far as match ups and playing to full potential is concerned. Both teams are needing for an important win and definitely both teams will not give that much of a breathing room so mental focus and execution will be crucial in this game. Unforced turnovers and turnover points can be a killer for each team especially if this game will go down the wire in the fourth quarter. This is a start of a brutal three-game stretch for the Green Archers and if La Salle comes out in all three games with a win (UE and NU will be next after Ateneo), this season for sure is looking oh so bright for the Taft boys.