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UAAP: Nelle’s superb performance drives Green Archers to victory over the Fighting Maroons

In their first Final Four match after two seasons, the third-seeded DLSU Green Archers triumphed over the second-seeded UP Fighting Maroons to inch closer to their first Finals berth in nearly five years after defeating UP by three, 83-80, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, earlier today, May 4.

DLSU’s primary playmaker Evan Nelle led the Green-and-White charge as he filled up the stat sheet with 26 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and three steals. Justine Baltazar and Kurt Lojera chipped in as the other Green Archers bearing double digits with 15 and 11 markers, respectively. DLSU pounced on their size and dominated the rebounding category as well with Baltazar and Michael Phillips recording 18 and 15 caroms, respectively.

Talking about his stat-stuffing game, Nelle expresses, “We [I] had good bonding with my teammates. We’re taking it day by day. We want to win every quarter. But, we still have a lot to learn.”

Despite the loss, Malick Diouf led UP with 18 points and 20 boards along with the key double-digit outings of Ricci Rivero and Zavier Lucero, who scored 18 and 17 points, respectively. Gilas stalwart Carl Tamayo struggled for the Fighting Maroons as he was limited to 2/14 shooting from the field. 

Playing with a purpose

The Green Archers were driven to start the game on a high note as they rode the scoring momentum coming off their win against the NU Bulldogs. Capitalizing on a new gameplan, DLSU opened the first quarter with a tenacious defense that carried on throughout the first half. Coupled with efficient teamwork on both ends, the Green-and-White finished the first period up by eight, 24-16, with seven players from La Salle already making their mark in the score sheets.

Hungry to continue their head start, DLSU’s second-stringers CJ Austria and Bright Nwankwo immediately wreaked havoc on the defensive side to start the second quarter—with the latter blocking two attempts by UP from inside. This attack forced UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde to call for an early timeout at the 8:42 mark, hoping to rally his men after DLSU’s lead ballooned to ten, 26-16. 

Unfortunately for the Diliman-based squad, DLSU continued to ride their momentum as Lojera was masterful on the offensive end—finishing the first half with eight points on an efficient 80 percent clip. This was highlighted by a fast break slam at the 2:46 mark with UP veteran Ricci Rivero slamming it back on the succeeding possession and Lojera answering with a snappy elbow jumper to widen their lead. The Green-and-White finished the second quarter strong, holding an eleven-point cushion courtesy of Baltazar’s eleven first-half points, 48-37.

Sustaining the cushion

Coming out of the break with a comfortable edge, the Green Archers kept their foot on the gas pedal. DLSU head coach Derrick Pumaren had clearly made adjustments after Tamayo posted a 23-point, 11-rebound outing in their match last April 23. While their defense has been an asset of DLSU all throughout the season, it was their offense that stepped up in this vital match to continue playing in the Final Four.

Nelle was the catalyst of the third-quarter surge, punctuated by his booming three-pointer that extended the lead to 19, 61-42. Furthermore, he cemented his status as one of the steadiest floor generals in the UAAP through his superb playmaking prowess, directing the halfcourt offensive sets for the Green Archers throughout the game. When Pumaren decided to insert his second unit with less than three minutes remaining and an 11-point lead, the Fighting Maroons went on a frenetic run to close the quarter.

UP ratcheted the pace to open the fourth quarter as they generated better looks. It was a slow start for the Green-and-White before Lojera pushed the lead back to 15, with 8:30 left in the contest. Nelle continued his stellar outside shooting performance to put the momentum back with the Green Archers, staying on fire as he drained threes to keep the lead. Tamayo’s unsportsmanlike foul, at the 5:50 point of the period, catapulted DLSU to build another huge advantage as Nelle converted another long-range bomb off the deadball, triggering animated reactions from the DLSU bench and faithful fans.

With a double-digit lead, the Green Archers began to ease off their opponents with less than two minutes remaining as a Diouf dunk followed by a Gerry Abadiano triple cut the lead down to three with 15 seconds left. Nelle split his charities to extend it back to a two-possession ball game and Rivero misfiring from the right wing clinched the win for the Green-and-White.

Even after the late-game collapse, head coach Pumaren still expressed high praise for how well his men played, “I think the boys really played hard today, 40 minutes of solid disciplined basketball. That’s what I’ve been asking them to do. Everybody was on the same page in today’s game. There’s still one more game, we just have to go back to the drawing boards after this. We have to plan and be ready for UP’s comeback.”

The Green Archers will face the Fighting Maroons again on Friday, May 6, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. This match holds the hopes of making it to the Finals of UAAP Season 84 against either the ADMU Blue Eagles or FEU Tamaraws. 

The Scores:

DLSU 83  – Nelle 26, Baltazar 15, Lojera 11, M. Phillips 7, Austria 7, Winston 7, Nwankwo 4, Nonoy, 3, Manuel 3, B. Phillips 0

UP 80 – Diouf 18, Rivero 18, Lucero 17, Tamayo 8, Abadiano 7, Cagulangan 6, Spencer 3, Alarcon 3, Ramos 0, Fortea 0, Webb 0, Lina 0

Quarter Scores: 24-16, 48-37, 66-55, 83-80

By Koby del Rosario

By Diego Vergel de Dios

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