Posted Feb 16th 2014
La Salle and UST battle for all the marbles in deciding Game 3
By Paolo Mariano Posted Oct 11th 2013
Throw away the stats and the calendars as well.
There’s no more tomorrow for De La Salle University and University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Season 76 of the UAAP men’s senior basketball tournament.
The league on Saturday will crown a new champion as the Green Archers and the Growling Tigers duke it out in the much-awaited do-or-die Game 3 of the finals at the Mall of Asia Arena at 3:30 p.m.
In what has been a turbulent season littered with off-court distractions and controversies, it’s only fitting that the league’s top prize will be decided on the court in the last playing date of the year.
The Green Archers forced the winner-take-all after manhandling the Growling Tigers in Game 2, 77-70. They conquered the shaded lane, played excellent defense, and executed almost flawlessly to frustrate UST all game long.
La Salle, which had a stingy rotation of only seven players last Saturday, is expected to take advantage of its size anew in the decider. The squad will be led by the much well-rounded Jeron Teng and the three-headed monster frontline of Arnold Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, and Jason Perkins.
In Game 2, Van Opstal and Torres combined for 29 points and 24 rebounds, continuously imposing their will in the paint as if they purchased it. The second-year Teng, meanwhile, had his fingerprints all over the match with 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
If the inside game doesn’t work, there’s always streak-shooting guard Almond Vosotros, who has a knack for playing well in big games.
“Like before, we’ll still try to improve on the things we have to work on, especially on defense. We also need to lessen our turnovers,” said La Salle head coach Juno Sauler.
UST, on other hand, which escaped La Salle by a hairline in Game 1, will once again lean on its veteran core of Jeric Teng, Karim Abdul, Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer, and Clark Bautista.
The graduating Teng has been on a tear in the series, averaging 22.5 PPG, including a career-high 28 points in a losing effort in Game 2. The do-it-all Ferrer, however, was conspicuously absent, finishing with only six points on 1-of-6 shooting after exploding for 20 markers in Game 1.
“Parang tumabla lang naman sila sa amin e, at least puwede pa kami makabalik (They just tied us, at least we can still bounce back),” said UST head coach Pido Jarencio. “Buhay pa kami (We’re still alive), we just have to step up.
The outspoken tactician didn’t namedrop but he could’ve easily been talking about Mariano, who has been a non-factor in the series. The versatile forward is only averaging 5.5 PPG on an atrocious 25.0% clip from the field. He has also only shot twice from the free throw line, underscoring his lack of aggressiveness. Prior to the championship, he was putting up 12.7 PPG.
“Actually, nung NU series (National University) pa nawawala si Aljon, siguro papaliguin ko muna siya sa Pagsanjan Falls para mawala ‘yung malas (Aljon has disappeared since the NU series, maybe I’ll ask him to bathe in Pagsanjan Falls to wash away his bad luck),” jokingly said Jarencio.
He has also lamented the lack of production from his second unit, with UST only averaging 8.6 bench points in the series. That's why shock troopers, Jan Sheriff, Ed Daquioag, Paolo Pe, and Kim Lo should also step up if they want to avenge their finals setback last year.
Whatever happens, it’s the end of the season for the two teams, which trudged divergent roads on their way to the Last Dance.
La Salle breezed through the second round and Final Four before getting its nine-game winning streak snapped in Game 1. In contrast, UST had to move heaven and earth just to get to the ultimate round.
The series has been a feature of contrasting styles as well. The taller and heftier Green Archers like to pound the ball in the post, capitalizing on inside points with 44.0 a game, compared to UST’s measly 20.0. The faster and more athletic Growling Tigers, on the other hand, like to run and shoot from the outside, doubling La Salle’s perimeter points, 34.0 to 17.0.
The biggest factors in the series though have been offensive rebounds and second chance points, which La Salle has both dominated with norms of 22.5 and 15.0, respectively. UST, conversely, has only averaged 8.5 and 4.0—huge dips from its league-leading 15.8 and league second-best 10.4 in the elimination round.
But as they say, stats don't really matter when it comes to a do-or-die, it’s all about desire and mentality—something both coaches agreed on.
“Everything boils down to the mental aspect. (It’s a battle) of who wants it more? We need to work on our mindset how to close out teams,” said Sauler.
“The championship is all about mental toughness. Naturo ko na lahat ng play at drills sa kanila e (I’ve already taught them all the plays and drills). It all boils down to having the proper mindset,” said Jarencio.
In the previous 19 title showdowns in the Final Four era, the winner of Game 1 went on to win the title 14 times. But in the preceding seven times the series was extended to a Game 3, the winner of Game 2 managed to take home the crown four times.
La Salle is looking for its eighth title, while UST hopes to become the lowest seed to capture the crown and tie Far Eastern University for the most in the league with 19.
The game will air live on ABS-CBN, BALLS HD 167, uaaplivestream.studio23.tv and iwantv.com.ph. It can also be heard on radio via DZMM 630 AM. The replays will air tonight at 9:30 p.m. on Studio 23 and at 10:30 p.m. on BALLS SkyCable channel 34 or Destiny Cable channel 36.