Much as he probably wants to, Gee Abanilla is careful not to put too much into the Dela Salle Archers' 62-59 overtime victory over arch-rivals Ateneo on Saturday night.
"Without (Greg) Slaughter, it was a totally different game," said Abanilla, pointing out that the 6-11 Ateneo pillar's absence due to an ankle sprain changed the entire complexion of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Preseason Cup match at the San Juan Arena.
Besides, "I think they are also scouting us just like the other teams," he added.
The new Dela Salle coach is also aware that the Archers had gone undefeated against the Eagles in preseason matches since 2007 - a stretch where Ateneo had gone on to win four successive UAAP championships and the Archers none.
But as much as Abanilla wanted to play down the victory, there are undoubtedly a lot of positives to pick up from the match as the Archers bid to make their presence felt in the college basketball scene again after a series of disappointing seasons.
For one, the Archers showed admirable character in the second half, not once losing their poise after the more- experienced Eagles clawed their way back from 11-points down to take a three-point lead into the game's closing seconds.
“It’s really early to predict anything. But what I do know is that we are improving individually and as a team. We are starting to build character,” Abanilla said.
“For me, it’s a very good sign because we are slowly building a foundation. Actually, it’s not winning all the time. For us, it’s creating a solid foundation that we could pass on na kahit wala na kami, maganda pa rin ang character ng team. Lumalaban at hindi gumi-give up. That’s ok for us.”
In highly-touted rookie Jeron Teng, the Archers also have a go-to guy who not only has the skills to score but also the courage to pull the trigger come crunch time.
It was Teng, the most sought-after rookie in the offseason after a historic 104-point performance for Xavier in a high-school game, who hit the clutch three-pointer against Ateneo star Kiefer Ravena in the closing seconds that sent the game into overtime.
Aside from that, LA Revilla and Norbert Torres played well enough to show that Teng won't be lacking in back-up support when the UAAP season kicks off in a few weeks' time.
“[The boys] didn’t give up. We were down by three but they never gave up. They showed character and if we could bring that out, it could have a very positive effect on the team,” Abanilla said.
Ateneo coach Norman Black was quick to applaud the Archers' defensive intensity, which held the Eagles to 29 percent shooting in the match.
"I don't want to take anything away from La Salle. They played well especially defensively. We had a chance to win the game in regulation. We couldn't get a stop in the end. We have to find that out once the UAAP starts," Black said.
Ateneo, who had gone 5-1 over its bitter rivals over the last three years in the UAAP, has just returned from a training camp overseas and clearly groped for form against the Archers.
“We’ll see. It’s still the preseason ... so we’ll see how we go,” Black said.