Jason Perkins has been brilliant for DLSU this season, especially in this magical 7-0 second round run. But on Saturday, when the chips were down, Juno Sauler eschewed his American rookie and turned instead to his veteran forward Norbert Torres to partner Arnold Van Opstal in the frontline.
AVO and Norbert played the entire second quarter together as well as the crucial last few minutes of DLSU's 69-64 win over the Tigers that gives La Salle a one-game playoff against FEU to determine who has the second seed behind NU.
In the second quarter De La Salle outscored UST 24 to 17, laying the foundation for victory with a nine point (39-30) halftime lead. Torres picked up eight points in that crucial ten-minute span. UST was never able to recover.
Torres is a huge contrast to UST's wings Kevin Ferrer and Aljohn Mariano, who are sleek, speedy and elegant. It seems at times that Norbert is a power forward of a bygone era, getting his points and rebounds the hard way; by earning them in the paint.
His meat-and-potatoes, smash-mouth brand of ball netted him fourteen points off five for six shooting from the field, while he knocked in four of his six free throw attempts. Ferrer fouled out trying to contain him with over two minutes to go, the hands on top of his head and an anguished expression on his face a picture of frustration.
While Perkins started the game, Torres wound up with 22 minutes to the American's 16. Perkins may be more versatile, but Torres is blunt force trauma, hoops-style, on both ends of the court.
“The combination of Torres and Van Opstal allows us to control the boards” offered Sauler as an explanation for his sitting the red-hot Perkins for crucial moments of the game. Torres the Torontonian racked up a game-high thirteen rebounds, six of them from the offensive boards. DLSU out-rebounded UST 53 to 41, and more than doubled them up on offensive rebounds, 19 to 9.
The beefy pair of Torres and Van Opstal also helped shackle UST center Karim Abdul for much of the game. The Cameroonian seemed strangely timid and although he did lead his team with eighteen markers, he was unable to score in spades early, allowing the Archers to dictate the tempo for just about the entire contest. Van Opstal ended up with six points.
UST is a team that must rely on speed and perimeter shooting to keep pace with bigger clubs. But their gunners forgot to bring their shooting boots to Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday, shooting just 3 of 21 from rainbow territory, with Kevin Ferrer failing to hit the target on any of his five hoists. Ditto Jeric Teng, who went 0 for 3.
It was Jeric's brother Jeron who was on song offensively for DLSU. The sophomore led all scorers with nineteen points and continued to display an improved free-throw stroke. He nailed six of his seven charities, including two late attempts that brought his team's lead to 68-61, effectively ending the game with less than 30 ticks remaining.
DLSU also led in the steals department, five to three, and out-assisted their foes, ten to seven. DLSU also led the blocks ledger of the column, four to three. Perhaps no erasure was more surprising than Almond Vosotros' wipeout of a Jeric Teng attempt in the third quarter.
UST now faces a do-or-die clash with Ateneo on Wednesday. The Blue Eagles won the first round meeting and will be favored to repeat. UST coach Pido Jarencio will need to formulate a game plan to bring last year's runners-up back into the Final Four.
After the game Jarencio was so upset he didn't even even bother singing the alma mater song with his charges, electing instead to stalk into the locker room early.
Meanwhile the stoic Sauler wasn't celebrating much in the post game press con either. He was asked if he felt a sense of accomplishmnet that his team had swept the second round to finish tied with FEU. His terse answer betrayed a belief that there's much work left to do in bringing a title back to La Salle .
“No. There is no sense of accomplishment.”
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.