David vs Goliath: La Salle Zobel vs. NU

Migs Bustos on Feb 18, 2016 04:21 PM
David vs Goliath: La Salle Zobel vs. NU
Can UAAP 78 Juniors MVP Aljun Melecio overcome the odds and lead De La Salle Zobel over the NU Bullpups?
So much has been achieved already this UAAP Season 78 juniors basketball tournament for both the National University Bullpups and the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers. NU clinched an automatic finals berth and are looking to get their third title since they first won in 2011. Meanwhile, Zobel is finally back in the Finals after seven long years. One may think that this is a done deal. NU with thrice-to- beat? Ilista mo na? But if how 2016 started for Philippine sports might be any indication, nothing can be a sure thing.

In the same situation, the College of St Benilde Lady Blazers overcame all odds by defeating the previously undefeated San Sebastian Lady Stags three times to claim their first NCAA Volleyball title. The San Miguel Beermen accomplished a nearly impossible task by winning four straight games against the Alaska Aces after being down 0-3 in the recently concluded Philippine Cup to capture their 22nd title in franchise history.

So, NU with thrice-to-beat? Against all odds, it can be done.

NU is Goliath

Much like Goliath, NU has the obvious advantage. Height, size, experience, battle-tested. The Bullpups have been in the Finals five straight years and won two of those. Goliath destroys everything that comes his way, similar to the Bullpups who has been dismantling opponents this season, with their biggest win against UE in the first round with 56 points, and an average winning margin of 19.2 points per game. On a more specific note, they won in by 15 and 23 points in the first and second round respectively against the Junior Archers this season.

The dominance of NU’s twin towers in JLC (John Lloyd Clemente) and Justine Baltazar was evident during their meetings. The two scored a total of 56 points while only limiting their match-ups (all active big men from DLSZ) to only a combined 39 points. More so, their speed, quickness and ball-handling skills make it very challenging for their opponents to contain them, especially in rebounding and their dribble-drive offense.

In their two games against DLSZ, NU dominated every significant aspect: rebounding (112-80), points in the paint (94-40), second chance points (29-15) and held the Junior Archers to just under an average of 28% shooting from the field,only making 39 out of their 141 attempts.

Given these stats, I guess it’s obvious that they should all the more push the offense and defense down low. With their big front court averaging at least 6’2” in height, they should have a green light in that aspect. One cannot also discredit the efforts by Atienza, Amsali and and Penano who all average over 18 minutes a game and contribute significantly on offense. For NU to control this series, they should be able to dictate the tempo early and get a good head start. They did this in their two games and DLSZ was unable to recover from their early big leads.

Rest or Rust?

This series can be tricky for the Bullpups. They have gotten their much needed rest, injuries of players can be treated well and they got their needed recovery time. But they also have not played an official game since February 6 (against the Junior Archers), an almost two-week layover. It is essential that they remain in condition and to stay healthy. I am sure that their coaching staff has done their necessary plans and strategies for them not to feel rusty.

It’s all about perspective. Look at all angles on how you want it, but the Bullpups need to take it one game at a time. Sometimes, the paradox about winning is when one thinks that he’s going to win, that’s when he loses. For the Bullpups is to keep their mindset in check, this is no time to relax, moreso no time to play around. It does not matter whether they are 14 and 0 nor thrice to beat. It’s all about taking it one game at a time and not to get ahead of themselves, to play every single point and possession. For NU to maximize their advantage, they must continue to show their championship form.

Zobel’s Heart

Hungry and much like David, the Junior Archers are fed up with not making it far enough in the post season. David, too was fed up of Goliath of ruling all over town. What David did was he found a way, even though he was not of match in size, for him there was always a way to put a big monster down.

In search for this answer, the Junior Archers have yet to show us what the “slingshot” is. In their step-ladder against Ateneo, Coach Boris pointed out that they were at the disadvantage. Ateneo had the height, size and experience. One of the most important things that made them win that game was their heart and this has been their battle cry ever since. Even though they lack in most of the aspects and what makes up their stats sheet, they showed that they had the bigger heart. And they have to continue to show that, most of all that the biggest odds are against them.

It’s not all about heart though. “Lahat kailangan mag contribute, hindi lang pwede 3 or 4 players”, says the league MVP Aljun Melecio. He adds, “Playing against NU, we needs to have a perfect game, there is little margin for error.” It is important for Melecio and Co. to play smarter than before. It’s just about the little things: playing aggressively, avoid turning the ball over too much, boxing out and holding opponents down for the rebound, making easy baskets and the list goes on. If they want to get detailed, then they have to, the more that they need to work on the littlest things as all the work that they have put in for this season should be in effect for this series. Aljun knows that multiple defenders will do their best to stop him, “aasawahin” is the best way to put it. What I mentioned in my prveious article on the DLSZ –Ateneo preview that there needs to be an x-factor, and that was Brent Paraiso who produced 15 points and 13 rebounds. Also, one cannot deny the big games by Miguel Fortuna and Martin Romero, who contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively. No doubt they were big during that game, but I believe that Marco Sario has that capability to step up and to bring out that fire especially in clutch moments.

It is important for Melecio not to carry the load and to have a more balanced offense. As he said, they need to have a perfect game. Given this tough odds, they just have to find many ways on how to achieve that. NU knows that Aljun is the main man, and if he is limited, DLSZ’s offense will be compromised. Given this, and I am sure the players know it, that they have to rise to the occasion, it’s just about applying them and putting them on court. They have to feel the hunger to what Coach Boris feels. The hunger to put a big monster down. Their last title was in 2007 and that is way too long for the program. If they really want it, their time should be now.

Just to give a little history, NU, led by Finals MVP Ralph Atangan, won its first title in Season 74 (2011). The Bullpups overcame DLSZ’s twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals and eventually beat FEU-FERN, who were powered by Jerie Pingoy, in the Finals. When DLSZ won it all in 2007 (Season 70) against then 14-year-old explosive rookie Kiefer Ravena and super juniors Juami Tiongson and Jayvee Dumrique of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, they lost their two regular season games. In the Finals however, the tables were turned and the Junior Archers beat Eaglets, 2-0, to get their second championship.

With this being said, this series will not be decided about skill, talent, history nor records, nor numbers in the stats sheet. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is who wants it the most. Plain and simple.

Credits to: Pong Ducanes of Imperium Technology

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