Slings and arrows

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

You could argue that La Salle underachieved in the UAAP men’s basketball competition this season. How ironic that the Archers were struck by slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. From coming less than a minute short of breaking into the finals last season en route to a third-place finish, La Salle was unceremoniously booted out of playoff contention in a do-or-die battle against Adamson last Sunday to wind up fifth.

The campaign was more than challenging for La Salle and it was as if the basketball gods turned their back on coach Derick Pumaren’s squad. Suspensions, illness and injuries decimated the cast throughout the 14-game elims plus the knockout game. Pumaren juggled his lineup from game to game, hardly enjoying the benefit of a full deck. Michael Phillips sat out four contests. Deschon Winston was sidelined for five, excluding three where he played token seconds (three in two and 16 in one) just to qualify for individual honors under the minimum 10-game eligibility rule. Kevin Quiambao missed the last two outings. Evan Nelle and Mark Nonoy were out for three contests and Raven Cortez for two, excluding a DNP on Pumaren’s decision.

Twice, La Salle was pushed to the limit in OT and twice, the Archers lost – to Adamson, 86-84, and UE, 80-72. La Salle had the dubious dishonor of bowing twice to the Red Warriors, the only team without a foreign student player. On the flipside, however, was the consoling note from UAAP chief statistician Pong Ducanes that “though it failed to enter the Final Four, La Salle gained the distinction of being the first non-Final Four team in UAAP history to have beaten all Final Four teams during the elimination round.” The Archers set the record by beating Ateneo, 83-78, in the first round and UP, 82-80, and NU, 63-58, in the second.

La Salle could’ve clinched a Final Four ticket outright if it had turned back UE in the second round. But with Winston checking in for 16 seconds and Phillips out of commission, the Archers bowed in extension. In the knockout game against Adamson, La Salle showed up without Phillips, Quiambao and Winston and lost, 80-76. Quiambao tested positive the day before La Salle’s UST game and stayed home. But in the morning of the knockout tussle, he tested negative and La Salle appealed to the Board of Managing Directors to allow him to play. “The health protocol from the start of the season was seven days from a positive test before being allowed to play,” said a UAAP official. “There were athletes who went through this during the season.” La Salle appealed Quiambao’s case even if he had cleared only five days with safety conditions improving nationwide. In the PBA, the protocol is five days. The Board put the appeal to a vote and five schools abstained but two unsympathetically denied it. So Quiambao ended his rookie season outside looking in.

Phillips badly wanted to play but recurring dizziness prompted doctors to put him under examination by neuro, cardio and ophthalmology experts. He had suffered a concussion in the US three years ago and was shaken up during a game this season. Phillips remains under observation to this day. Winston went down with a partial tear in his calf during the Adamson game in the first round last Oct. 22. Three weeks later, an ultrasound showed the calf was completely healed. Winston was cleared to resume practice without restrictions but complained of discomfort, declining to participate in 5x5 scrimmages. In contrast, Nelle played hurt most of the campaign and refused to seek medical attention for fear he may be advised to sit.

Despite the bumps along the road, La Salle ended the elims No. 1 in turnover points, assists, steals and blocked shots. The Archers’ average losing margin was 5.75 points and five setbacks were by four or less. Pumaren said he’s proud of the team for the effort to play against all odds. There were uncontrollable factors that conspired to burst La Salle’s bubble in the journey but nobody could ever accuse the Archers of losing heart on the court.


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