The DLSU Green Archers kickstarted their preseason preparations with a flourish after reclaiming the championship in the recently concluded FilOil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup, which was held from April 30 to June 12 at the FilOil Arena in San Juan City.
In the tournament finale, the Green Archers defeated the Arellano Chiefs, 86-74, to complete their sweep of the annual summer showcase featuring schools from the UAAP and the NCAA. It was also La Salle’s second FilOil championship victory in the past three years, with last year ending in a 79-53 loss to the San Beda Red Lions.
Several Lasallians were recognized at the end of the tourney for their individual brilliance. Ben Mbala, Jeron Teng, and Abu Tratter were all named to the Mythical Five along with Arellano stalwarts Jio Jalalon and Kent Salado. In addition to this, Mbala was also adjudged as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and Best Defensive Player after leading the league in various statistical categories.
In the elimination round, DLSU was placed in a very tough Bracket A that featured NCAA powerhouses San Beda and Letran, UAAP arch-nemesis Ateneo, and upstart teams such as Mapua and Adamson. With La Salle transitioning to a new system under new coach Aldin Ayo along with the welcoming of a plethora of new players, no one expected the squad to win all of their matches.
Despite the lack of familiarity, however, the Green Archers came out with aggression during their elimination round campaign. They opened up the tournament with a double-digit victory over an Adamson side coached by La Salle legend Franz Pumaren. Their convincing victory was followed by rousing victories against UE, San Beda, and Mapua.
Despite having already qualified for the playoffs, the team still decided to go full throttle against Ateneo in their elimination round game last May 29. La Salle would wallop the Blue Eagles, 98-66, showing no mercy to their archrivals. Their last two elimination round games against Letran and Lyceum proved to be tough as both squads gave the Green Archers a good fight, with the two games ending in single-digit DLSU victories.
No letting up
Come playoff time, the Green Archers maintained their relentless assault, winning with an average lead of nearly 16 points per game, with their quarterfinals win against FEU reaching 20 points.
In the quarterfinal round, the reigning UAAP champions FEU Tamaraws were nowhere near controlling the game, as La Salle won, 91-71. Mbala and Teng combined for 60 points in the resounding victory.
The semifinal match against rivals Ateneo showcased balanced scoring for DLSU. Incoming fifth-year guard Thomas Torres led the Green Archers in scoring, as he had 17 points. Aljun Melecio, Tratter, and Andrei Caracut showed efficiency in this game as well, scoring 15, 14, and 13 points, respectively. Key baskets late in the game were able to put La Salle in the driver’s seat, handing them a 92-77 win.
Their toughest match in the tournament may have come against Arellano in the finals. The Chiefs were eager to go home with the gold, as they remained ahead after the first half despite DLSU’s best efforts. However, a monstrous game from Mbala enabled La Salle to get back into the match. The Green Archers would eventually win, 86-74, after Mbala filled up the stat sheet with 28 points, 26 rebounds, and eight blocks.
A force to be reckoned with
Showcasing their dominance in the preseason, the Green Archers will once again be among the favorites to win it all in UAAP Season 79. However, history has proven that success in the FilOil tournament doesn’t necessarily translate to championships in the school’s respective mother leagues, as such was the case with the NU Bulldogs, San Beda, and UE a few years ago.
La Salle will be parading one of its strongest line-ups in recent years. Besides Mbala, Teng, and Tratter, other Green Archers who showed great performances throughout the summer were Jollo Go, J-boy Gob, Melecio, and Caracut. Also, with the possible return of big man Jason Perkins and athletic wing man Julian Sargent, no team in the UAAP can match the team in terms of talent and depth.
Depending on how Ayo manages his players, next year’s DLSU squad could either go down as one of the greatest championship teams to ever play in the UAAP, or become one of the biggest disappointments in the amateur league’s long history if they fall short of winning a title. The talent is evident, but it would take more than individual brilliance for any squad to clinch the championship.
Erratum: This article was edited to correct some factual errors.