Despite a stellar elimination round campaign that saw them win 11 games and lose only three, the DLSU Lady Archers were unable to dethrone the now three-time champions, the NU Lady Bulldogs.
Entering the step-ladder postseason due to NU’s undefeated record, DLSU was confident going in as the second seed. While the Lasallians were able to defeat third-seeded UE, a valiant effort in the finals wasn’t enough to claim the crown.
With the defeat, the Green-and-White finishes its season in second place, an improvement upon last year’s disappointing third-place finish. After another season without a championship, the Lady Archers may be disappointed, but truth be told, they have nothing to be ashamed of. The Lady Bulldogs currently hold a 48-game winning streak which dates back to 2013 and boast three out of the five members of the Mythical Five, and were just the best team in the league all season long.
The Lady Archers began their season with resounding victories against FEU and UP, defeating both teams by more than 19 points. Early on, it seemed that La Salle was a team on a mission, showing it was out for redemption.
Remnants from last season, however, showed when they went up against the Lady Bulldogs. In their first meeting, the Lady Archers were defeated, 72-59, ending their potential early season surge. Despite their shortcomings, Coach Cholo Villanueva remained optimistic, saying “It is a small step for us, improving from last year. Our first game last year, we lost [by] around 24 or 21 points, but this year, we led at halftime. The problem is that we relaxed at the second half and lost our focus.”
In the next few weeks, they would go on a five game winning streak, beating the UST Growling Tigresses, AdU Lady Falcons, UE Lady Warriors, ADMU Lady Eagles, and UST again in the second round. However, their winning margin grew smaller as the streak progressed and it was eventually cut in their second meeting against the FEU Lady Tamaraws, who defeated them, 66-62, despite the Lady Archers overcoming a 19-point deficit. La Salle unable to bounce back as they succumbed to the Lady Bulldogs, 93-77, in their second match-up.
DLSU finished the elimination round with an 11-3 record, one step back from its 12-2 record last year. The Lady Archers’ dominance for majority of the season can be attributed to their performance as a team, relying heavily on ball movement and leading the league in assists with 16.3 assists per outing.
What they lacked in size, they made up for in perimeter shooting and opportunities on defense. They shot a league-best 30.9 percent from behind the three-point arc and averaged 22.2 points off opponents turnovers while being second in terms of steals with 8.9 per game.
Leading the way for the Lady Archers was Snow Penaranda, who averaged 11.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists during the season. Point guard Camille Claro provided playmaking for the team as she recorded 3.7 assists per game to go along with her 12.6 scoring average. The re-emergence of Khate Castillo proved to be vital for the team’s elimination round campaign as she led the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game, all the while leading the league in three-pointers made with 41 for the season.
Valiant effort, disappointing ending
The Lady Archers entered the postseason hungry for a championship, going in as the tournament’s second seed. With the Lady Bulldogs finishing the elimination rounds undefeated, the postseason was played with a stepladder format rather than the standard Final Four setup. After awaiting the winner of the battle between third-seeded UE and fourth-seeded AdU, DLSU finally returned to action as it faced the Lady Warriors, holding a twice-to-beat advantage.
Going into the semifinals, UE was a confident squad because of its small margins of defeat to La Salle in the elimination round, losing by only two and six points in round one and two, respectively. The Lady Archers, however, came out firing in the game, carried by 23 points from Castillo. Relying on a 15-0 run to end the first half, DLSU routed the Lady Warriors, 72-50, to clinch a finals berth.
In the finals, La Salle faced an uphill task. Still, the Green-and-White came into Game 1 against NU full of confidence that it could beat the defending champions. That showed immediately as the Lady Archers took a surprising 39-28 lead at halftime. Unfortunately for them, much better execution in the second half from the Lady Bulldogs eventually caused DLSU’s demise. While Claro and Castillo hit five three-pointers in the final five minutes of the game to keep it close, the team fell just short, 77-74.
In Game 2, La Salle was just outplayed from the beginning. Losing 96-72, NU proved why it was the undefeated number one seed. Finals MVP Gemma Miranda and MVP Afril Bernardino combined for 43 points to power the Lady Bulldogs to yet another championship.
The loss was definitely disappointing, but many players, such as Camille Claro, are already looking forward to next year. “We may have failed to win the championship title this year, but will definitely do better and assure that we will come back stronger next season,” she said. She further elaborated, “Just like an arrow that can only be shot by pulling it backward, our loss dragged us back but it only means that it is going to launch the Lady Archers into something great–UAAP Season 80 Women’s Basketball Champions.”
While some of the Lady Archers are already gearing up for revenge in Season 80, this loss marked the end of the careers of Mythical Five member Penaranda, Kathy Gonzales, and Pau Vela. Their efforts this season, and in the past, will surely not be forgotten by their teammates, coaching staff, and the Lasallian faithful anytime soon.