The De La Salle Green Archers' crushing defeat against the Ateneo Blue Eagles was a learning experience, to say the least.
In round one of their Season 81 matchup on Saturday, the defending champions cruised to a 71-55 decision over the young rebuilding Archers. The rout was a testament to how the Blue Eagles operated like a well-oiled machine and took apart the opposing team.
"I give it to Ateneo. They really played well tonight," admitted La Salle head coach Louie Gonzalez. "They forced me, they forced us to play the kind of basketball (we were not used to). We're a young team and that's the biggest learning. We were forced by Ateneo."
"Though we defended them well, I couldn't say anything about the effort of my players on the defensive end, but it's the decision-making when we attack - that's where we had trouble," he went on.
In terms of positives, La Salle can live with the fact that they limited Ateneo to just 34 percent shooting. But the Green Archers couldn't get their rhythm going on offense. They were dragged into a grind-out first half then they were caught flat-footed in the third quarter that allowed the Blue Eagles to pull away.
Aljun Melecio was the only player who scored in double-figures with 21 points but the spitfire guard was only 5-for-18. La Salle only had three assists and misfired all-game long, managing just 29 percent from the field and committed 28 turnovers.
"Especially with the game earlier, you have to play selfish first then become unselfish, but that counters what I've been preaching to my players that you have to have a lot of touches, you have to share the ball," assessed Gonzalez.
Gonzalez and the Green Archers were faced with a conundrum. Their system relied on ball and player movement in order to be successful, but when Ateneo buckled down on defense and La Salle's options were limited, Gonzalez needed to go away from what his team was comfortable with. However, his young team was not ready for that sudden change. Were the Green Archers supposed to live and die with their system or flip the script and rely on individual play?
"Someone needed to take over because everything was being covered, all the passing lanes, it was really hard. The flow of the game earlier is something that we need to learn," Gonzalez pointed out. "The reason why we only had three assists and we had 28 turnovers because that comes from what I preach. All my players were trying to keep everyone involved, sometimes even passing up shots, but that caused a ton of turnovers."
The inexperience of the Green Archers showed against Ateneo. It's easy to forget that La Salle has a new coach with a new system and are without a two-time MVP in Ben Mbala. Even if La Salle has veterans such as Melecio, Justine Baltazar, Kib Montalbo, and Andrei Caracut, they are still in a new system and still have a lot of growing pains to go through. And when Ateneo pushed them to go beyond what they were accustomed to, that's when the inexperience really kicked in.
"All of my athletes right now, they're relying on the system. With that kind of game, you have to get away from the system before returning to it," the coach explained. "That's what we need to learn. It's as if you have to release the pressure first then once the pressure is released, we get back to what we do best."
The game versus Ateneo was a tough and excruciating experience for La Salle. More than the lopsided final score, the team was forced to play out of their comfort zone. As young and inexperience as they are, Gonzalez takes everything as a way to learn and grow.
And La Salle will need this experience when they take on the league-leading Adamson Falcons next Saturday.