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Encouraging Signs from Green Archers Despite Game 1 Loss

No disrespect to National University, but I preferred the Bulldogs to the Growling Tigers as opponents for the Green Archers in the finals of the UAAP’s Season 76 Senior Basketball Tournament.

The Bulldogs might have played with the swagger of champions-elect in the elimination rounds, even in that heartbreaking loss to the Green Archers; but the finals were always going to be a mental as much as a physical battle for whoever got there.

In this regard, the Bulldogs, lacking in UAAP basketball history as they were, probably would have struggled more than the Tigers. In football terms, before Manchester United and Chelsea got onto that lofty perch as Premiership champions, both clubs had to go through seasons of ‘almost’ being there before actually taking that final step onto the summit.

In contrast, the Tigers enjoy a great basketball tradition, in the nineties during the Feihl era even routinely despatching the Archers’ challenge season in and season out. So overwhelming was the Tigers’ psychological advantage that the joke at the Taft campus was that if you dressed up an intramurals team in the gold of UST, the varsity team would have lost to it.

Instead, the 9-match streak was the result of grinding out wins without the panache that characterised the losing efforts against FEU and UE. The Archers are long overdue a good game. How about we start this Saturday boys?
In disposing of first the Eagles and then the Bulldogs on the road to this season’s finals, the Tigers had players coming back in from injury with time to play themselves back into form. Collectively, as a team the Tigers were also starting to ride the crest of the same sort of winning wave that the Archers rode on the way to an unbeaten 9-game streak.

While the Tigers were consigning the Bulldogs back into anonymity, the Archers were, of course, resting. Ask the players and the coaching staff of a winning team where they would like to be and the answer will always be ‘on the court playing.’ Resting – and waiting – builds up nervous energy which can be detrimental especially in a championship series.

This was why, in Game 1 yesterday of the championship series, that the Archers quickly fell behind 2-18, a lead later padded by the Tigers to 4-21 early in the first quarter, was exactly how the script was written given the opposite circumstances of the two teams arriving at the finals.

The Archers’ performance was almost painful to watch. That said, those who saw them fumble their way through the first round also know that it is no mean achievement that they were in the final at all as the higher-ranked team.

Many of these players used to be nervous wrecks heading into endgames; and that many became stone-cold assassins this season means that Juno Sauler is due a bust along the ground floor of the St. La Salle Building. The coach’s quiet assuredness has transformed this team.

Thus, in retrospect, while the 72-73 loss to the Tigers was painful to swallow, the one-point loss despite the nervy performance may be the best portent yet of better things to come. First, that the Archers played themselves back into the game meant that they had started to soak in the atmosphere of the finals right in the first match.

Many teams need to lose a championship series first before they can learn to actually win it. The Archers yesterday showed that they were quick learners.

Frankly, given the circumstances, I would have quickly forgiven the Archers had they lost by more. In the end, they might well have nicked Game 1 had LA Rivilla’s shot not been swatted away as the seconds expired.

If one counted the number of ‘sure’ baskets that the Archers somehow missed, the result could easily have been a double-figures win. That they were missed was merely symptomatic of the fact that all these Archers were playing their first UAAP Men’s Basketball finals match.

In contrast, many of the Tigers played in the series last season when they were beaten by the Eagles, who completed their famous 5-peat. But they could not blow the Archers away, relying instead on what Pido Jarencio referred to as ‘breaks of the game’ to eke out a narrow win.

The loss, hopefully, will have a liberating effect on the Archers. The Archers’ coaching staff had been going on about taking each game as it came; but the fact remained that as long as the streak continued, it was yet another burden that the players had to carry on their shoulders.

The sooner the streak came to an end, the sooner too could the Archers start to build another one.

While Arnold van Opstal, who blew hot and cold during the 9-match streak, would have won most of the accolades for his performance yesterday, it was Almond Vosotros who might have turned a corner. This is a decidedly positive sign heading to Saturday’s Game 2, as Vosotros had been missing from the armoury in recent matches.

In putting together its 9-match winning streak, the Archers arguably never played the sort of swaggering basketball that they played against FEU and UE in the first round. Ironically, both matches were lost by the Archers.

Instead, the 9-match streak was the result of grinding out wins without the panache that characterised the losing efforts against FEU and UE. The Archers are long overdue a good game. How about we start this Saturday boys?

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