If yesterday’s contest between the DLSU Green Archers and NU Bulldogs was a preview of Season 80’s Finals matchup, then the UAAP is in for a treat.
Playing their second game without reigning MVP Ben Mbala, La Salle escaped NU late with a 115-109 victory to start its title retention bid with a 2-0 record.
Defense seemed optional, at least for the first three quarters, between both teams in what was the highest scoring UAAP basketball game in years. The match was exciting – an exchange of haymakers between two talented contenders – and is an early candidate for game of the year.
Let’s look at the important numbers to see how La Salle performed.
– Through two games, DLSU is now averaging 105 points per outing in Season 80 and that’s without Mbala yet. The rest of the UAAP should be concerned. A major reason for the high-scoring explosions is because of long-range shooting. DLSU has now made 26 shots from downtown, shooting at a near 35% percentage.
– Aljun Melecio once again turned heads, finishing with 20 points. More importantly, however, was his eight assists. Coach Aldin Ayo was pleased with Melecio’s 29-point outburst against FEU in La Salle’s last game, but also said the young star needed to make better decisions on the floor. Versus the Bulldogs, Melecio mixed things up by still looking to score while also setting up teammates – the next step in his evolution.
– Two Archers finally had their breakout games. After a forgettable 1-of-11 showing against FEU, Ricci Rivero stepped up with 21 points and 7 rebounds yesterday. His best play of the game, ironically, was an assist late to his brother Prince which was essentially the dagger of the contest.
With the departure of Jeron Teng, a lot is on Ricci’s shoulders to step up his game. It looks like he’s ready for the challenge.
Another guy who deserves credit is Jolo Go, who had 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Go’s three-balls came in timely, most of them being converted when La Salle badly needed baskets in the second and third periods. If Go can shoot like this normally, he’s finally going to get consistent playing time this season.
– An unheralded hero of the match was Leonard Santillan, who recorded 13 points but more importantly grabbed 16 rebounds. The Archers were in trouble once Abu Tratter fouled out. Already without Mbala, La Salle had to deal with NU big man Issa Gaye and badly needed Santillan to play bigger than his height for rebounding purposes. Safe to say he did just that, and earned adoration from the DLSU crowd.
– Speaking of Tratter, how great has he been this season? He had 11 points and 10 rebounds against FEU and then put up 11 points and 4 boards against the Bulldogs despite playing just a little under 17 minutes. He was also perfect from the field, going 4-of-4 and 3-of-3 from the foul stirpe.
– La Salle, however, also has improvements to make – notably on the other end of the floor. DLSU let NU shoot 45.4% from the field, and now the Green Archers have let their opponents convert 46.8% for Season 80, which ranks last in the league. Ayo admitted following the Tamaraws win that by pressing almost the entire game, there will be open shots conceded. But he also made it clear during halftime of yesterday’s match that he was not happy with how often DLSU let the Bulldogs blow by them.
Winning games by trying to outscore your opponents could work, but it’s also a strategy that falls along the lines of “playing with fire.”
– La Salle also needs to clean up their turnovers, seeing as the team has averaged 21 a contest.
Overall, it’s hard to find many faults with the Green Archers in Season 80. All of the boys deserve credit for staying undefeated with Mbala absent. They should only get better once he returns.