With his club down 68-58 going into the last quarter against DLSU last Saturday, UE boss Boyzie Zamar, instead of making a tactical adjustment, elected to appeal to his team's heart.
“I threw away the Xs and Os, I threw away the pen. I just went up to the boys and said 'ano ba?'”
The ploy worked. About thirty minutes later The Red Warriors were celebrating another close victory at the Mall of Asia Arena, 85-83, leveling their slate at 3-3.
Roi Sumang led UE with 21 points and Sierra Leonian behemoth Charles Mammie followed with 19, but the clutch period belonged to Chris Javier, who scored seven of his sixteen points in the final period, and Ralf Olivares, who supplied a dagger trey with under a minute to go that gave UE the lead for good, 82-81. Olivares finished with thirteen markers.
The joy in the UE camp was mirrored by the anguish of the Archers, who have now suffered back-to-back fourth quarter meltdowns against FEU and now UE.
This, more than any other game of the Archers, simply looked like one they were going to win. Everything semed to be humming.
Arnold Van Opstal got into foul trouble early but Norbert Torres was stellar in handling Mammie for much of the game while scoring nine points and seven rebounds.
Almond Vosotros delivered a career-high 26 points with four strikes from beyond the arc.
The statistics also make it hard to believe that the Archers came out on the short end of the stick. DLSU shot a very good 46.8% from the field against UE's 40.8%, a stat that is even more impressive considering that La Salle did a lot of perimeter sniping to avoid tangling with Mammie.
La Salle's scoring was very balanced, with six players chipping in eight or more points.
The Green Archers also out-assisted (18 to 13), out-stole (6-3) and out-blocked (5-1) UE, with Jeron Teng gaining two huge blanks. La Salle also had fewer turnovers (13 to 17.)
And yet they managed to lose the game. As kids these days say, “anyare??”
DLSU must feel like a tiangge stall owner who sells all of his merchandise two days before Christmas, then checks his books and finds that he's lost P20,000.
“Napaka-taas ng score. Sa law of averages, talo kami diyan” admitted Zamar.
Three glaring stats swung this game for UE. First is free-throw shooting. UE trooped to the line 24 times and flubbed only three. DLSU only attempted eleven free throws and only made three.
If DLSU shoots just 45% from the line (5/11), the game goes into OT. Six for eleven, an eminently reasonable clip, and La Salle wins. This is a sickeningly familiar lament for Archers fans.
The second stat is rebounding, with UE dominating the boards, 48 to 37. Mammie grabbed sixteen rebounds, twelve off the offensive boards.
The third stat is the number of points that DLSU leaked in the fourth quarter: 27. Not very many teams deserve to win close games when they surrender that many points when it matters most.
UE deserves the credit. Several times throughout the course of the game Zamar went with a triple towers lineup that included Mammie, Javier, and John Noble. Every time those three were on the court UE seemed to rally or increase a lead. If I am not mistaken, they were together in the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Warriors unleashed an early 15-5 run to tie the game.
That combination seems to create matchup problems for La Salle that they simply could not hurdle.
Mammie delivered again despite playing 38 minutes for the second straight game, on only two days rest. And late in the matchup, it showed, with the center at times slow to cross the time line on offense. A gassed Mammie had no field goals in the endgame.
As his team mates pumped their fists during their alma mater song, an emotional Mammie, presumably in tears, buried his face in a towel.
The way I see it, UE just has to give Ivan Hernandez more burn so that Mammie can be rested enough for the fourth quarter.
UE next plays UP after a weeklong break. For La Salle, it's yet another bitter pill to swallow. DLSU is languishing in solo sixth with a 2-3 slate.
I took in the last few minutes amongst several green-clad fans in the patron section. The angst at seeing their team wither again in the home stretch was palpable.
After the final whistle a twenty-something La Salle fan, still distraught over the loss, looked up to the Adamson fans dressed in blue who were starting to cheer on their team, who would soon appear in the court. He wasn't pleased.
“Hey you! Sit down!” he bellowed. The other Archers fans beside him tried to placate him.
I guess any shade of blue will set of La Salle's suffering fans now.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.