MANILA, Philippines - Despite watching his team win by 21 points, 86-65, on Saturday, August 23, DLSU Green Archers head coach Juno Sauler was unhappy with how his boys came out of the gates against the UP Fighting Maroons.
According to the champion head coach, La Salle wasn't ready to play and, as a team, didn't have the required mental focus against the Fighting Maroons in the early goings.
"Not just a slow start but I think some guys weren't ready to play, weren't focused mentally in terms of what we wanted to achieve [with] our game plan defensively, offensively," Sauler explained in the post-game media session.
La Salle was ahead by five, 20-15, at the end of the first quarter and had a six-point lead, 40-34, after 20 minutes of play. However, their lead could have been higher had the team not coughed up multiple turnovers - 11 in total in the first half - that led to easy baskets for University of the Philippines.
Bolstered by the high-energy performance of rookie big man Abu Tratter in the third quarter, the UAAP defending champions finally pulled away and coasted off to a comfortable victory.
"Aside from lack of mental focus at the start, our energy level was really down," Coach Sauler reiterated his disappointment for his club's discouraging start to the ball game.
"That's why I think Abu Tratter, when he came in the third quarter, brought in a lot of energy and it rubbed off on the other players. That's when I think we picked it up."
DLSU outscored UP by nine in the third quarter, 28-19, thanks to Tratter who finished with 7 markers and 4 boards. The Green Archers also received Almond Vosotros' best game of Season 77, as the fifth-year man put up 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go with 4 assists.
Jeron Teng, meanwhile, struggled from the field by shooting just 36%. However, he did come up with 15 points to complement his 6 rebounds and 5 assists, and he had another impressive outing at the free throw line where he made all four of his attempts.
Furthermore, Arnold Van Opstal returned to action for DLSU after missing four games and registered 12 points and 8 rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
"It's just Thomas (Torres) who's out," Sauler confirmed after the game. "Everyone's ready. We just have to manage his (Van Opstal's) minutes a little bit. We don't want him to get too much. We're trying to be cautious also."
Now standing at 7-2, DLSU is tied for first place in the league standings with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, who will face the 6-3 NU Bulldogs on Sunday, August 24, and with the FEU Tamaraws, whom Sauler and company will go up against on Wednesday, August 27.
The last time both teams faced each other was on opening day of the UAAP season, with the Tamaraws leaning on Mike Tolomia's strong play in the fourth quarter to pull of the comeback victory.
Sauler didn't play conservative, saying that he feels FEU, which took care of UST on Saturday, is better than they were during the first day of the UAAP season.
"They're playing a lot better compared to how they played in the opening," the second-year DLSU coach stated.
"FEU's a lot stronger compared to when we played them."
Sauler also said that in order for La Salle to beat FEU and win their eighth straight game, they must not start the contest similar to how they did against UP.
"We cannot afford to start this way. I didn't like how we started. Especially [the] lack of mental concentration."
He continued: "It's connected to our mental focus. Some guys didn't know what the game plan was defensively, gave too many points - points we shouldn't have given up. That's another thing that we need to learn." - Rappler.com