09 September 2013

A Good Time to Be a Green Archer

Did I not say the last time I wrote about the De La Salle Green Archers that the current team is good enough to actually win the Season 76 seniors basketball championship of the UAAP? And that fearless forecast, mind, was delivered in the aftermath of two numbing losses against the FEU Tamaraws and the UE Red Warriors in the first round.

Especially against the Tamaraws, the Archers were in the zone for three of the four quarters. Then, the entire team just caved in, almost as though in fear of taking a step up to the summit.

But what a difference a couple of months can make!

Yesterday against erstwhile league-leading National University, the Archers eked out a potentially defining 57-55 victory over the Bulldogs to stretch their winning streak to six matches.


There is still some way to go before we can all find out if the championship trophy will be making its way back to Taft. But five years of barrenness is a long time to suffer, especially as the silverware has been sitting cosily inside the trophy room of the Auld Enemy.
With the narrow victory, the Archers tied the Bulldogs and the Tamaraws at the top of the standings. More importantly, the team officially booked a seat in the Final Four.

Most of the flowing basketball was arguably played by the Bulldogs. Indeed, NU’s 31-25 halftime lead was built on the merits of a sleek running and passing game.

But this Archers team has developed a trait that ought to send a chill up the spine of opposing teams. It has developed the sort of resilience that all champion teams possess; and the ability to pull a victory from out of the magician’s hat even when not playing in top form.

The Archers had, perhaps, played better this season; but for all its flowing basketball, NU could not put La Salle away. The Archers hung on steadfastly; and when it mattered most – the endgame that the very same team earlier in the season seemingly could not solve – edged and stayed ahead for good.

As a mental victory, this was precious; and the Bulldogs, who were up by nine with just 5 minutes of the game remaining, looked in the end as though they did not quite know what hit them. Because the Bulldogs were another team which seemed to enjoy a psychological victory over the Archers, the significance of the latter’s victory is potentially profound.

This was a different Green Archers team that meekly surrendered the endgame to FEU and UE in the first round. Whilst the faces of the players in those earlier matches were stricken with barely-controlled anxiety, in recent matches, the very same faces have become... almost devoid of emotions.

While players of the successful Franz Pumaren era wore passion on their sleeves, Juno Sauler’s charges play with the demeanour of stone-cold assassins. It is a frightening notion to consider if one does not play in green and white.

Whatever it is that Sauler is feeding these boys, it has given them in two months the sort of mental toughness that many will take their entire careers to achieve.

Even when the bulldogs led by 9 with just 5 minutes of the game remaining, the Archers patiently and methodically chipped away at the lead in their own counter-run. Two months ago, the heads would have dropped; the faces would have looked glum; and the Bulldogs would have come away with a rout.

And it was just the Bulldogs’ luck – or the lack of it – that of all days of the season for Jeron Teng to come good with his free throws, it just had to be against them yesterday. Four straight in the endgame, as a matter of fact, that ultimately spelled the difference between the two teams.

The scary question for other teams to ponder at this point is, what if the Green Archers play well?

For instance, Almond Vosotros’ shooting yesterday went AWOL; and his contribution to his team’s efforts was a measly 2 points. Neither did the two Torreses and dela Paz contribute to the tally.

There is still some way to go before we can all find out if the championship trophy will be making its way back to Taft. But five years of barrenness is a long time to suffer, especially as the silverware has been sitting cosily inside the trophy room of the Auld Enemy.

But knowing that in the current La Salle team there is every reason to be optimistic has made the present an exciting time. A good time, in fact, to be a Green Archer.

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