IT was a huge one La Salle pulled off against bitter rival and defending champion Ateneo on Sunday, but Green Archers coach Juno Sauler took everything in stride, stressing it was just another opponent and another game they had to go through Season 76 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
The Archers rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat the five-time reigning champions, 82-73, before a jampacked crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena, bringing joy to the whole La Salle community which had not seen a La Salle victory over Ateneo in three seasons.
For Sauler, however, it was just another day at the office as he reminded his players to have the same mindset they brought to the Ateneo match when facing every team in the league.
“Like what I’ve been telling to my players, it’s not who we play,” said Sauler. “We defeat an opponent, it’s an opponent. We come out with the same mindset. It doesn’t matter who we are facing.”
The Archers improved to a 2-1 (win-loss) card and stayed just behind leaders Far Eastern University (3-0) and University of Santo Tomas (2-0).
Sauler credited his players for the win, but saved his biggest praise for the pair of Arnold Van Opstal and Luigi De La Paz, who outscored Ateneo’s entire bench all by themselves, 28-9.
“Hat’s off to Arnold, he had 18 points. He was big. The only problem is that he turned the ball over four times,” said Sauler.
De La Paz also played a huge part in the victory, scoring 10 points including big shots that broke the backs of Ateneo. He also put up a good defensive effort on Chris Newsome, slowing down the Ateneo rookie who had scored most of his game-high 27 points in the first three quarters.
“Luigi is a real fighter. He is coming off an injury. After getting a good rehab, he was able to regain his form back. Great mental toughness on the part of Luigi,” said Sauler.
“We put Luigi on Newsome and he had a good job defending him.”
The Archers go through another big test on Saturday when they face unbeaten Far Eastern University at the Mall of Asia Arena.