DE La Salle coach Juno Sauler was left to rue the flat start of his big men after the Archers dropped a 73-72 heartbreaker to University of Santo Tomas in Game One of the UAAP men’s basketball finals on Wednesday.
Center Arnold Van Opstal and power forward Jason Perkins struggled early in the game, allowing the Tigers to seize the momentum on the way to dealing La Salle its first loss over the school's last 10 games.
Although La Salle still ended up outscoring UST inside the paint, 44-14, Sauler admitted the Archers’ inside game didn’t click right away following the early foul trouble of both Van Opstal and Perkins.
“We couldn’t get ourselves going because Arnold and Jason were called for two early fouls,” said Sauler, whose team had to mount a huge second quarter comeback after trailing by as many as 2-18 in the opening period.
While Van Opstal and Perkins finally got their game going in the second half, the UST triumvirate of Kevin Ferrer, Karim Abdul, and Jeric Teng took control in the deciding period to claim the opener of the best-of-three series.
“Arnold and Jason, we wanted them to get touches. Hopefully, we can get more touches because that is where we generate our offense,” said Sauler.
The soft-spoken La Salle coach said the Archers will continue to rely on their inside game during the series after Van Opstal finished with 13 points while Perkins had a double-double effort of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“If UST feels it can defend us in the post, then that’s fine with us. We will keep milking the post. If they collapse, then we just have to tell our guards to be open and ready to shoot the shots that they are taking,” said Sauler.
The Archers likewise hope to improve their shooting after finishing with a paltry 37.5 percent clip from the field compared to the 43.3 percent shooting of the Tigers.
“We just have to shoot better in all departments. It’s going to be hard to win if the opponent shoots better,” said Sauler.
The La Salle coach also refused to blame his team’s inexperience for the loss. He said breaks just didn’t come their way after Kevin Ferrer banged in a three-pointer with 41.6 seconds left in the fourth for a 73-69 UST edge.
“Ferrer hit a tough shot, they were up by one. It was a broken play, a three-pointer at the top of the key,” said Sauler.
“It’s not really the championship experience. They really played very well in the last few games. We have to do better,” he stressed.
Sauler also said he was satisfied with the Archers’ final play went after Almond Vosotros missed a wide-open shot in the waning seconds.
“We got a good shot. Almond was wide open. He had a good look. But that’s the ballgame, you make it, you miss it,” said the La Salle coach.