EDITORS NOTE: Khyte has written for FTS Spotlight before. He detailed the rise of Baser Amer in last year’s Commissioner’s Cup. He’s a writer for DLSU Sports so his allegiances in the UAAP Finals is no secret. For this article, he writes about how the Green Archers lost and, eventually found their identity.
The Green Archers have regained their identity at the right time
Written by Khyte Mendoza
When news of Coach Aldin Ayo transferring to De La Salle University as its head coach swirled around college basketball, everybody knew what DLSU was looking for – better defense and ultimately, a championship.
Before handling the Green Archers, Ayo brought the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights to the NCAA Season 91 Finals. Letran spoiled San Beda’s bid for a five-peat as Mark Cruz and company shocked the Red Lions in three games. They did that with a formidable blazing defense.
The fiery mentor is known for his Mayhem system where he demands his players to apply full court pressure almost the entire game to force turnovers for easy quick baskets.
With that added weapon in the Green Archers’ arsenal, plus the offensive prowess of the then-debuting Ben Mbala and former King Archer Jeron Teng, the Taft squad dominated the UAAP last year.
Their suffocating style on the defensive end led to victories with double-digit margins, highlighted by a 43-point drubbing of the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers in the first round, 38 in the second, Mbala’s earth-shattering slams, and Teng’s outstanding scoring ability.
The 79th season for the Green Archers was perfect, well, almost. Arch nemesis the Ateneo Blue Eagles dealt the Green shirts their first and lone loss of the season as Head Coach Tab Baldwin found a way to break down the press.
Coach Ayo and his wards needed that. It was a wake-up call.
La Salle and Ateneo eventually met in the Finals where the Green Archers swept the Blue Eagles to bring the crown back to Taft. From start to finish, they were committed to playing their chaotic brand of defense.
A year later, it was somehow a new beginning for the Green Archers. Jeron Teng, Julian Sargent, Jason Perkins and Thomas Torres graduated. Prior to the start of the season, Ayo named the defensive-minded Kib Motalbo the new team captain. Aljun Melecio and Ricci Rivero were expected to help Mbala in carrying the scoring load. Adding a rebounding machine in Santi Santillan strengthened the line-up even further.
It was clear even in the offseason that the Green Archers could defend their title in Season 80.
However, it was a different La Salle team in the elimination rounds. Wins were tougher and point differentials got closer.
Not to discredit other schools because they all improved, but the Mayhem was softer and a little more loose. I noticed how top-tier teams FEU Tamaraws, the Adamson Soaring Falcons, and the Blue Eagles easily cut through the full court trap.
The Green Archers barely beat FEU in the first round round and took a stunning defeat at the hands of the hot-shooting University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in their first meeting. They allowed Alvin Pasaol to scored 49 points on their supposed tough defense. To make matters worse, they lost to their arch rivals in the first meeting of the season because of mental mistakes in the end game.
After a rough start to the season, La Salle found their groove in the second round. The Green Archers avenged their defeat vs UP, sending back the Maroons crashing back to earth with an 18-point victory. They dominated UST and UE and won tough games over Final Four contenders FEU and Adamson.
La Salle then got back at Atenep to end the eliminations. Ricci Rivero and Ben Mbala sparked a 10-0 rally in the last two minutes of the game to seal the win.
In the Final Four, twice-to-beat La Salle faced a familiar foe in Adamson. The Soaring Falcons led up until late in the third quarter. Montalbo answered the call in slowing down Jerrick Ahanmisi who had been torturing DLSU from rainbow country at that point. His hard nosed defense shut down Ahanmisi in the payoff period as the Green Archers made their way to the Finals.
The second round and Final Four reminded everyone of what the Green Archers were capable of.
Mbala and Rivero got a lot of the credit, but it was Montalbo who set the tone for the team. His defense and energy changes the flow of the game.
La Salle had to wait a bit longer but they eventually faced the Blue Eagles in the Finals.
It was a horrible start to the series. No one but Aljun Melecio came out to play in Game 1. Mbala had a lackluster outing scoring only eight points on seven shots. Rivero was plagued by foul trouble for most of the game. But it was their defense that was the problem.
Coach Tab Baldwin’s boys have figured out the press. They surgically dissected the full court pressure thrown at them with ease. The Blue Eagles had open layups as they ran the floor and it was all because of the Green Archers’ disoriented defense.
Again, mental errors in the end haunted La Salle. They could have won if not for miscues down the stretch. The dagger from Isaac Go happened because of a miscommunication on defense. It seemed as if the Green Archers once again forgot who they were.
The doubters started coming out after the loss. Maybe, they could could beat Ateneo with the offense. Maybe La Salle could get through this if Mbala, Rivero and Melecio all show up in Game 2. Maybe they improve their defense in the next game. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
The worst was realized in Game 2. The Green Archers had no way to go but up as they stared at a 21-point deficit in the second quarter. Ricci went back to the bench with four fouls, crying out of frustration. Older brother Prince had to comfort him and get him to focus again.
The Green Archers were down big, but the fans in the arena refused to give up on them. During a timeout, with the sea of blue outnumbering the opposing side, the Green crowd chanted “Let’s go Archers! Let’s Go!” with all of their hearts to fire up the team. The crowd’s roar reminded the Green Archers that they were still champions. They reminded the team that they were the Kings of Mayhem.
Their comeback all started with their best defender: Montalbo.
His scrappy defense on the perimeter became contagious as the rest of the team followed suit. The intense pressure defines rattled Ateneo.
Mbala got into the act and started swatting away layups and disrupting shots inside the paint, Andrei Caracut limited Matt Nieto, Montalbo racked up steals and got into the head of Thirdy Ravena, Santillan grabbed the boards, and Melecio did damage from the outside and the charity stripe. This happened while Ricci was on the bench.
From a high of 21 points, they cut it down to nine at halftime.
That was it! Mayhem! The feeling was so surreal; it was like seeing your best friend for the first time in a long while. They finally found it again.
Once La Salle gained momentum, they never looked back. Rivero sought redemption as he re-entered the game late in the third frame. The Green Archers continued to stifle the Blue Eagles, dropping a 26-8 bomb to take the lead, 68-59.
Ateneo began to miss some shots in the payoff period and DLSU took advantage. This time, it was the Blue Eagles’ turn to fold in the end game. La Salle was just in a different zone and what set them apart was their defense.
This was why Coach Ayo repeatedly said that they should believe and stick to the system. If they do, opponents experience chaos.
The comeback was not just about erasing the lead, but also the return to their real identity. An identity that they embraced since Ayo took over coaching duties. They may have lost it along the way but they found it in Game 2.
Mayhem has finally returned and it has come at the right time for the Green Archers.
Photos from slamonlineph.com