[UAAP basketball] Cage dominance a picture frame Green Archers want to hang on ’till the end

 

QUEZON CITY–Fashionable title favorites De La Salle University fanned off some of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament’s toughest contenders two weeks into the season. And images of the Archers’ games all but point to the direction that season 79 of the UAAP may be theirs.

The latest set of images,  a game against season 77 champions National University, was filled with hardships: an eight-point deficit, foul troubles for Jeron Teng and Ben Mbala, a quiet La Sallian crowd during the scoring downturns, and a school official lambasting a referee wearing jersey number “5” for a “bad” call. Contrast those to earlier images when the Archers won their first three games, including a 38-point rout of the University of Santo Tomas.

Coach Aldin Ayo with rookie Ricci Rivero and veteran Jeron Teng in a post-game presser after La Salle posted its fourth straight win in the UAAP men's basketball tournament. (photo by The Filipino Connection)

Coach Aldin Ayo with rookie Ricci Rivero and veteran Jeron Teng in a post-game presser after La Salle posted its fourth straight win in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament. (photo by The Filipino Connection)

But when the composure settled in, the defense clamped NU tightly, the running game came and the crowd roared, the Green Archers turned a deficit into a picturesque win that can be a watermark up to the end of the tournament.

The Bulldogs may have the nearest match up to the Archers’ lineup. A temporary restraining order granted unto NU by a Pasig City court given the ineligibility case of 6’9″ center Matthew Aquino allowed the transferee from Adamson University to play. Matt Salem, an transferee this time from La Salle, led the scoring with 15 pts. but Jess Diputado and Rodolfo “Jayjay” Alejandro provided timely contributions.

When NU gave the Archers’ biggest deficit thus far in the season at 52-44 (2:57 left in the third quarter), the crowd sensed the Bulldogs are the biggest contenders to the favored Archers.

A lull at the 7:19 mark of the fourth provided a 10-12 minute respite, allowing Teng and Mbala –both with four fouls– to return and to inflict damage. Mbala and Abu Tratter handled the boards while Teng barreled his way to six markers to slowly put the game away.

Alfred Aroga, NU’s star import in season 77, was bugged with traveling violation calls –part of his seven turnovers– and cannot muster Mbala’s strength even if Aroga’s the perfect match to Mbala. The La Salle recruit from a Cebu school wasn’t as loudly dominant as what he showed in the Archers’ first three games.

So is it either 14-0, or at least 7-0 after the first round of eliminations? “I don’t think of that,” said Sorsogon-born coach Aldin Ayo. “I will take it one at a time.”

For Ayo, the NU win is big for the Archers, especially since this is La Salle’s first win over NU in 2016 (to count the pre-season tournaments both squads joined).

Teng (23 pts.) and Mbala (15) had their usual scoring binges this game . But ten other Archers fielded in played key roles and made their niche baskets, showing the depth of the Taft Avenue roster.

That depth may be enough to solidly give the unbeaten Archers the favorites’ tag. Former UAAP Mythical Five member Jason Perkins hasn’t even played this season. Our 15 guys, former NCAA basketball champion Ayo said, “have equal opportunities. So whoever can help the team will be fielded in. They’re physically ready.”

Like rookie Ricci Rivero: his six points came in the last quarter, including a nifty sidestep layup that moved the Archers away from the Bulldogs.

Abu Tratter eludes Alfred Aroga in a fastbreak play, helping the De La Salle University Green Archers drub a fiery National University Bulldogs challenge en route to a fourth win in the ongoing UAAP season. La Salle, analysts say, is posied to win it all this 79th season. (photo from the Tiebreaker Times.)

Abu Tratter eludes Alfred Aroga in a fastbreak play, helping the De La Salle University Green Archers drub a fiery National University Bulldogs challenge en route to a fourth win in the ongoing UAAP season. La Salle, analysts say, is posied to win it all this 79th season. (photo from the Tiebreaker Times.)

And will the 2016 UAAP image be a smiling Jeron Teng because he will end his UAAP career with a second title (his first was against UST in season 76)?

“Every year is different,” said Teng, who has yet to win a UAAP MVP award but is still searching for more positive pictures of the La Sallian campaign this season. “We would still have to play harder.”

 

 

 

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About JEREMAIAH OPINIANO