Coming off a sweet championship run in UAAP 76 and their core players still intact, expectations soared high for the De La Salle University Women’s Basketball team for UAAP 77. They however, faced a lot of setbacks during the offseason, which lowered those expectations. Last year’s fairytale ending was followed by one of the most heartbreaking losses this season.
During the offseason, the DLSU Lady Archers suffered two major setbacks. First is the loss of players due to injuries, and second, the loss of consistent Mythical Five member Ara Abaca due to ineligibility.
Head Coach Tyrone Bautista admitted that Abaca’s ineligibility had a bit of an impact at the start but was firm on moving forward and reinventing themselves, “our system was in place. All of us just had to get into it. As much as possible, we don’t try to rely so much on personnel so we could fall back on the system.” says Coach Ty.
With the loss of key player Abaca, the Lady Archers were not favorites for this UAAP season. Some did not even consider them as contenders but the ladies in green and white proved otherwise.
The Lady Archers won their first six games of UAAP 77, beating one team after another in convincing fashion. The team looked sharp in each game during their six-game winning streak, implementing their familiar suffocating full court press, forcing turnovers, and then running and scoring transition baskets on the other end. During tight games during their streak, the Lady Archers always found a way to close it out either by tightening their defense further or hitting clutch baskets in the dying seconds.
They simply looked unstoppable when playing unselfish basketball but the real test came when they faced last year’s runners up, the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs. In last season’s finals, NU had a difficult time breaking DLSU’s press but in their first round meeting for this season, it was as if they mastered the art of breaking that same press. Almost the entire game, the Lady Bulldogs would complete quick passes to break the press in the backcourt then simply score easy layups on the other end. It was a blowout: A 22-point loss for La Salle to end the first round with a 6-1 record.
At the start of the second round of eliminations, it was evident that the Lady Archers were still feeling the sting from the blowout loss to the Lady Bulldogs as they dropped their first assignment against an Adamson University team, which they easily beat in the first round. They however, got their groove back as they won their next four games against, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), University of the East (UE), and University of the Philippines (UP) respectively.
With still a few games to be played in the elimination round, DLSU was already assured of a seat in the final four with a twice-to-beat advantage to boot. They started looking like the team that could potentially challenge the unbeaten Lady Bulldogs.
The last two games of the elimination round were against Far Eastern University (FEU) and NU. The game against FEU saw the team trail the whole game. FEU had an eight-point lead in the third quarter and was already starting to pull away, but DLSU’s Trisha Piatos drained three straight shots, two of which were three-pointers to give her team a chance to win in the fourth.
In the dying minutes of the game and with the Morayta-based squad leading by three points, Lady Tamaraw Angel Arellado hit a triple to double FEU’s lead with only 35 seconds to go. Piatos then wasted no time and answered with a triple of her own to make it a one-possession game. La Salle then opted to foul. Jacqueline Tanaman missed both her free throws but DLSU could not secure the defensive rebound which resulted in an easy layup for FEU. The Lady Archers suffered their third defeat of the season, 43-48.
The much-anticipated rematch between DLSU and NU was one of the most exciting games of UAAP Season 77. NU had not dropped a single game all season long and a win against the Lady Archers will give them an automatic spot in the Finals with a thrice-to-beat advantage.
The game started with both teams aggressively playing defense and running their offense as if it were already the championships. All the players were playing as hard as they could. The first half ended with DLSU trailing by 10 points, 26-36.
The third quarter was a shootout. The best shooters from both teams came out firing threes and making them. Trisha Piatos made three triples while Jonah Melendres added five points in the quarter to cut NU’s lead to just three points entering the final quarter.
In the dying minutes of the game, DLSU finally got the lead after some free throws from one of the graduating players, Cassandra Santos. NU was quick to recover as they grabbed the lead back on a layup from Gemma Miranda.
Trailing by one point and the shot clock turned off, DLSU committed a turnover that left them no other option but to commit a foul to send NU’s Shelley Gupilan to the line. She split her free throws, but just like what happened during their previous game against FEU, the Lady Archers failed to secure the defensive rebound and had to foul again. The lead after the free throws was up to four and La Salle would fail to score in the next possession. They dropped the game 71-75. Almost.
The Lady Archers started strong in Game One of the series. They mounted a huge 15-point lead to open the second half. DLSU looked like they were already running away with the last spot in the Finals but FEU answered with a run that the Lady Archers could not halt.
FEU’s shooters started to heat up from the outside at the closing minutes of the third quarter and the momentum swung to their side and stayed there until the final buzzer.
Lady Tamaraw Jacqueline Tanaman pushed the ball in almost every possession in the fourth quarter. She found open players and even made some low percentage shots. She played the game of her life and almost had a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists to lead her team to a 61-56 victory over the Lady Archers.
Thanks to their twice-to-beat advantage, DLSU still had one more chance to grab a return trip to the Finals. Game Two, however, was just like a replay of what happened in Game One. Once again, the Lady Archers started the game strong and established an 11-point lead at the opening minutes of the 3rd quarter but slowly saw FEU come back and reduce that deficit until they eventually tied the score at the end of regulation. An additional five minutes was needed to settle the score.
The game could not have possibly been any tighter. A do-or-die game, which went into overtime. La Salle drew first blood. They had a four-point lead at the start of the extension but the Lady Tamaraws simply continued what they were doing toward the end of regulation. They gave the ball to April Siat who proved to be the catalyst for FEU. Siat simply bullied her way in the paint and when she got deep enough, Tanaman would pass her the ball and Siat would finish. She was unstoppable.
With around 30 seconds remaining and the game tied, Coach Ty called his final timeout. The clock started ticking but it looked like the play was going nowhere until last year’s finals MVP, Trisha Piatos drove hard to the basket and drew a foul from her defender. She was the UAAP Season 77’s best three-point shooter and is someone who has always drained clutch baskets for her team. At that point, she once again drained a pressure-packed free throw that gave her team a one-point lead. The ladies in green and white were just one defensive stop away from winning but April Siat calmly banked a shot in the paint to grab the lead for FEU.
One last chance to win. One last possession with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game clock. Piatos, for the last time in her UAAP career brought down the ball for La Salle but was immediately doubled. She passed the ball to Camille Claro in the corner for a triple but it fell way short as the time expired on the defending champions. Season over.
The NU Lady Bulldogs eventually took home the championship after beating the FEU Lady Tamaraws in the Finals.
Thoughts of the coach
For Coach Ty, the reason behind the downfall of the Lady Archers was that they tried to fast track the season. They lost their focus. “I always believe that when you try to shortcut a league, it finds a way to make you pay back for that”. He also feels that somehow he failed to make the necessary adjustments for the team. “With other teams learning how to play the reinvented Lady Archers, I failed to make the necessary adjustments and that’s on me. I’m responsible for that” says coach Ty.
7.5/10 is how coach Ty rates his team for this season, “The girls exceeded expectations especially with the turn of events that the team encountered. Almost everybody didn’t consider us as one of the contenders. I just told the girls that we will make do with what we have and they responded to the challenge and by believing that we will still be one of the teams to be reckoned with, we did just that. We faltered towards the end but to finish 2nd after eliminations was a testament of the work, effort and dedication that everybody put in.”
“Yes, we were not able to get the result that we wanted but the collective effort of the players to do what’s best for the team is always something to be proud of. There was willingness to share the ball and a desire to make the right plays. There’s very little ego in the way they played and it’s refreshing to watch specially the past three years” he added.
The DLSU Lady Archers has six graduating players in the team: Nicky Garcia, Niky Scott, Inna Corcuera, Cassandra Santos, former rookie of the year and team captain Miller Ong, and one of the deadliest three-point shooters to ever suit up for La Salle, former finals MVP Trisha Piatos. In addition to the graduating players, Head Coach Tyrone Bautista also announced that he won’t be coming back to coach the Lady Archers next season. He will be replaced by former Green Archer Cholo Villanueva.