UAAP: A look behind the Green Archers’ unbeaten run to the Final Four

Following their disappointing 4-3 showing in the first round of Season 86, the DLSU Green Archers managed to pull off the unexpected, shocking the competition with a complete sweep of Round Two. They brought their active win streak to a league-high eight after sealing a grind-it-out victory over their rival ADMU Blue Eagles last Saturday, November 18.

In doing so, the Green and White finished as the second seed with an 11-3 standing and managed to do something they have not been able to do in over six years since UAAP Season 80—secure a twice-to-beat advantage.

Following what many may call an unexpected sweep of the second round, the Green Archers have yet to face their biggest challenge in their mission of bringing back glory to Taft.

Playing the open floor

One of the key factors behind the return of La Salle as a UAAP Men’s Basketball powerhouse is the increased pace of the Taft-based team. DLSU averaged 14.7 points off turnovers per game throughout their first seven games—second only to the UP Fighting Maroons. 

Come the season’s second half, the Green Archers made a living by turning defensive stops into points, soaring to a league-high 19.36 in the seven-game span. 

In addition to this, they saw more perimeter points per game, averaging 36.7 in the latter half in comparison to 32.7 from their first seven fixtures. These statistics were evident in how Head Coach Topex Robinson’s side played throughout their unbeaten stretch, putting the ball on the floor and taking the shots that came within the flow of the offense. 

Despite the steady contributions of Kevin Quiambao and Evan Nelle as scorers and playmakers, the key difference in the second leg of play was the rise of DLSU’s other offensive standouts, namely Mark Nonoy, Jonnel Policarpio, and Raven Cortez.

Peaking at the right time

Nonoy’s 24-point scoring explosion may come to the top of people’s minds as the biggest breakout in the Green and White’s Round Two sweep. However, the frontcourt presences of Policarpio and Cortez were pivotal to turning the tables for DLSU. 

De La Salle Zobel product Cortez was sparingly used in the first round, playing only four times. In a swing of fortune for the Lasallian faithful, the sophomore big man increased his production in the second round, playing in six of seven games and top-scoring for his side in their win over FEU with 16 points.

As for Policarpio, he hasn’t blown away any one team with his scoring. Rather, it was his versatility that played a big factor in transforming the struggling 3-3 Green Archers into the title-contending side they are now. After averaging just 4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 9:39 per game in six first-round appearances, Policarpio practically doubled his output. 

In his Round Two breakout, the Mapua product tallied nearly double-digit points at 9.8, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game in 13:12 average minutes throughout his last six outings. 

Interestingly, his assist averages make for the third-most from the Green Archers, behind only floor general Nelle and MVP-frontrunner Quiambao—an impressive feat from a player many regarded as a bruiser coming into this rookie season.

After playing most of his Round One minutes at both forward spots, the six-foot-five Kapampanagan was tasked with backing up the five-spot after UAAP Season 84 Mythical Five member Mike Phillips tweaked his ankle in their first encounter with UP. He stepped up to guard and neutralize the much taller NU foreign student-athlete Omar John for stretches as La Salle avenged their earlier defeat to the Bulldogs.

Policarpio brought a new dimension to Robinson’s offense. He operated as a small-ball center who could put the ball on the floor, knock down open jumpers, and hold his own defensively against much bigger players. 

One play exemplified this in the third quarter of DLSU’s twice-to-beat clincher against ADMU. It began with a typical action: the two big men on the court, Policarpio and Quiambao, each setting pindown screens for sophomore guard Earl Abadam, who ran across from the corner and into the key. With all eyes on the cutting sophomore, the ball was kicked to Policarpio, who ran the pick-and-roll with Quiambao for an easy layup in what was an exceptionally rare interaction between a center and a power forward—moreover, in the UAAP.

Malayo na, malayo pa

This saying has been heard at basketball courts everywhere at every level: “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” Despite their long-awaited resurgence, La Salle still struggled on the defensive end, allowing 71.6 points per game across their 14 matchups in Season 86—making their defense the third-worst in the league. The main culprit behind that statistic is DLSU’s interior defense, allowing a league-worst average of 32.6 points inside the paint.

With this statistic in mind, one could not help but think that a healthy Malick Diouf may have had a large impact on his UP side’s prior loss to DLSU last November and, consequently, La Salle’s hot streak. The reigning MVP missed the bout between the eventual first and second seeds due to his status then being day-to-day with a wrist injury.

While the Green Archers have come a long way, M. Phillips said it best in their post-game press conference last Saturday, “Malayo na, malayo pa.”

(We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.)

All the potential roads to La Salle’s third UAAP Men’s Basketball championship in 10 years involve overcoming each team that previously handed them their losses back in Round One. The DLSU Green Archers look to make their biggest step in bringing back the glory to Taft by beating the NU Bulldogs in their upcoming Final Four matchup this Saturday, November 25, at 4 pm in the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Diego Manzano

By Diego Manzano

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