“It has been a season of constant improvement.” Those were the words uttered by rookie head coach and newly minted UAAP champion Juno Sauler after besting the rest of the league this season.
Prior to the season, all teams were practically balanced, with at least six squads labeled strong contenders to the championship. A season’s end, the DLSU Green Archers stood out and were on top of the heap. However, their path to the coveted title did not come easy at all, as they were even considered as underdogs and disappointments at one point in the season.
Many counted the team out, while some doubted the abilities of the coaching staff. DLSU now stands as the champions, but it was not an easy path to bring basketball glory back to Taft Avenue.
After bowing out of the tournament early in the Final Four last season against the ADMU Blue Eagles, expectations were high for this year’s Green Archer team. A coaching change rocked the team early on though as assistant coach Juno Sauler was appointed as the new head coach with just three weeks remaining until their first UAAP game. Many questioned the move, but it would later be a tremendous blessing in disguise.
With a 3-4 record at the end of the first round though, it looks as if the boys from Taft were again headed for an early dismissal after they failed to qualify for the top four in two out of the last four seasons. The players and coaches were heavily bombed by criticism, as fans and spectators were calling the Green Archers lackadaisical while many questioned their desire to win.
They had late-game collapses which were attributed to their bad free throw shooting. Crucial free throws could have prevented the four losses of DLSU in the first round, but this troublesome junction helped form the Green Archers into a more composed unit.
Second round rally
The Green Archers, who many considered out of the mix, looked like a completely different team after the two-week break between rounds. The boys from Taft started to click on both ends of the court as they swept the second round with seven straight victories. The run gave them a tie for the best record in the league at 10-4 by the end of the eliminations and they eventually settled with the second seed after beating FEU in a tie-breaker while the NU Bulldogs received the first spot due to a superior quotient.
Their streak continued through the Final Four against FEU, but they were stopped in the first game of the UAAP Finals. DLSU was pushed with their backs against the wall, as they needed to win the next two games to win the championship. DLSU then proved to be the better team, trouncing UST in the next two games in dramatic fashion to snag the UAAP championship.
Sauler emphasized improvement all season long and it was highly visible as they improved from a rocky start to a dream finish. The team improved on their free throws as the season progressed, and it helped them seal games and shed their choker label. “It has been a season of constant improvement,” shared the rookie head coach.
Looking back, there are many memorable takeaways from this season.
Who could ever forget the two heart-breaking losses against FEU and UE where the team had an established lead late in the game, only to have it slip away? Without these losses, the team may have never developed into the mentally tough unit that they are today.
What about Almond Vosotros’ game winning jumper against Adamson off a broken play in overtime? That shot began the spectacular nine game winning streak and Vosotros struck again when it mattered most, hitting the winning jumper in the last game of the finals.
Teng had his own game winning shot as well, breaking a tie with a midrange jumper before the buzzer to win their second round match-up against the ADMU Blue Eagles.
How could anyone forget the quiet double-double performances of Jason Perkins, or the dominant games of Arnold van Opstal and Norbert Torres? The veteran guard LA Revilla had shining moments of his own, and this season has much more unforgettable memories from the Green Archers.
Interestingly, the Green Archers started UAAP Season 76 with an overtime loss to the preseason favorite UST Growling Tigers. Yet here they are now, grabbing the crown with an overtime win from the same squad. No one could have written a better ending to this season for La Salle.
The Green Archers used every criticism thrown at them as a way to better themselves. “We just want to be the best that we can be”, Sauler shared prior to the UAAP season, and they truly did improve by leaps and bounds.
The confetti has fallen and this chapter of UAAP history has just ended, but there is no doubt that all signs point toward the beginning of another Green Era.
“We’ll be back and even better next year,” announces Sauler.