By: Tony Lebron Atayde, Jr.
The De La Salle Green Archers opened their UAAP Season 80 campaign against the FEU Tamaraws. It comes on the heels of an ugly brawl in Davao that made people anticipate a hard physical game. Add to that the absence of MVP Ben Mbala and most pundits wondered how the Green Archers would match up against the Tamaraws.
The Green Archers went on a strong start to lead by as much as 21 points in the first quarter. Coach Aldin Ayo made quick substitutions so that his players had fresh legs to keep their torrid defense going.
Though not expected to play, team captain Kib Montalbo suited up and showed the heart of a champion. He led by example and the rest of the team responded. Kib had four 3 pointers along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Not bad for someone who had just gotten out of the hospital.
Aljun Melecio was the biggest player of the game. He scored a career high 29 points and added 6 rebounds to the effort. Aljun, last season’s Rookie of the Year, showed maturity beyond anyone’s expectations.
However, the win was not about one or two players. It was a total team effort brought about by a system that Coach Aldin has implanted in his players. Their defense was their best offense.
An amazing statistic was how DLSU outrebounded FEU 49 to 40 and this without Mbala. DLSU was unstoppable in offensive rebounds as they outhustled FEU 19 to 12.
Abu Tratter played a monster game. He neutralized FEU’s Prince Orizu who is taller and bulkier than Tratter. Abu just wouldn’t back down.
Andrei Caracut played heads up basketball. He was solid both in defense and offense. The former Rookie of the Year has come into his own and is a vital cog of Coach Aldin’s system.
Though he was a non-factor in the first half due to foul trouble, first year player Santi Santillan came back in the 2nd half and did the intangibles. Personally, I have liked how this Cebuano plays with no fanfare or fancy moves. He’s a smart player who rebounds, shoots, defends and is always at the right place at the right time.
Co-Captain Prince Rivero had one hell of a game too. He used his bulk and fighting spirit at crucial times of the game. He helped Tratter in the paint and wound up with 7 points and 6 rebounds.
Offensive and defensive contributions from Ricci Rivero, Justine Baltazar, Brent Paraiso and Jollo Go were part and parcel of the whole team coming together as one unit with one goal.
Though FEU made a good run at the end game, it just was not enough as DLSU did not lose their composure.
While people are talking about how other teams have improved, many have put DLSU in the back burner in this regard. Many talk of how the recruitment of DLSU was inferior to other schools.
What many do not see is how Coach Aldin Ayo and his staff have molded the DLSU Green Archers into a well oiled machine. Coach Aldin can play small ball with Caracut, Montalbo, Ricci Rivero and Melecio on the court at the same time. He can play big with Prince Rivero, Abu Tratter, Santillan, Baltazar and Mbala. DLSU is a complete package of speed, size and experience.
The season is only one game old and a lot can happen. However, DLSU is not going to lie down and let the crown go that easy.
I have to acknowledge the play of FEU’s Ron Dennison too. Though his reputation as a “dirty” player precedes him, yesterday he showed that he is much more than that. The last quarter rally was willed by his leadership.
I am not a fan of this TV timeout. It can break a team’s momentum especially since it is at crucial times of the game (6 minute and 3 minute marks).
The Animo Squad had one awesome halftime routine. Good work Coach Ramon Pagaduan IV, Program Manager Andro Garde and the entire team.