Aside from team captain Jeron Teng exerting tremendous effort on defense, the most surprising scene during DLSU’s 89-71 win over the UP Fighting Maroons was 6’7” rookie Justin Baltazar aggressively defending UP’s guards on the perimeter. La Salle and new coach Aldin Ayo’s hyped weapon of mayhem is active, destructive, disruptive, and most importantly effective.
Despite forcing 34 turnovers and converting them to 34 fast break points, and everyone from the first five to the team’s rookies giving quality minutes, coach Ayo is the first to admit that there are still lapses on defence and that this batch of Green Archers is barely scratching their full potential.
La Salle went to Cameroonian import Ben Mbala early in the game, and Big Ben took advantage of his speed against UP’s big men to the tune of 12 points from 6/6 shooting. Everyone in the Green and White gallery thought that the rout was on especially after Mbala’s fast break dunk started a 11-6 quarter-ending run that gave DLSU a 31-19 lead.
After starting 14/21 from the field, La Salle struggled on offense in the next 10 minutes, going 4 for 15 while getting outscored by UP, 15-12. The quarter also highlighted the Archers’ game-long struggles from the line (15/28, 53.6%), wasting several chances to pad their lead by going 4/10 from the stripe and were leading by only nine at intermission, 43-34.
The up-and-down first half gave way to the next quarter and a half full of highlights and dominating play; a preview of what DLSU-brand of mayhem looks like. From starting point guard Thomas Torres’ chase down block, Jollo Go catching fire and hitting from the outside, and Mbala delighting La Salle supporters and fans with two more jams, it was a pleasure watching a dominant Green Archers team on the Smart Araneta floor.
Coach Ayo may not be aware of last season’s 66-71 first round loss to the Fighting Maroons, but most of the players are probably aware of that stunning upset. This time, the Archers’ defence was stingy, not allowing the Diliman-based squad to crack the 20-point mark in very quarter of the wire-to-wire win.
Despite Ben tallying 30 points, 14 rebounds, and two blocks, the game was an example of great team effort and balanced production as three more Archers finished in double-digits: Abu Tratter continued his pursuit of a breakout season by scoring 12 points in 31 minutes, while Jeron and Jollo finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Bouncing back from an error-prone game against FEU, Torres had a bounce-back game of eight points, a game-high five assists, and only one turnover, while main reliever Kib Montalbo continued his comeback season by scoring nine points, and issuing three assists.
The lopsided win even allowed the La Salle coaching staff to field an all-rookie line-up in the last minutes of the game: big man Baltazar in the middle, together with Mark Dyke, Ricci Rivero, Brent Paraiso, and last game’s surprise package, Aljun Melecio.
With the dominant play of Ben Mbala and improving game of Abu, third-year forward and starter Prince Rivero only played four minutes, and notched only an assist to his name. Likewise, with Jollo having a career game, Season 78 Rookie of the Year Andrei Caracut understandably took a backseat to his teammate and batch mate, and wound up with only three points.
Despite the lack of minutes and opportunities from the Prince and Andrei, it is important to look at the big picture, and be able to sacrifice for the team. It is important that the duo work hard during practice and continue to be ready when their numbers are called.
Sitting comfortably atop the league standings, the Green Archers try to notch win number three and a 3-0 win-loss record when they meet UAAP 79 host UST Growling Tigers next Wednesday, September 14 at the Mall of Asia Arena.