MANILA, Philippines -- De La Salle University could not take advantage of a golden opportunity against archrivals Ateneo de Manila University on Tuesday night, in their second-round encounter in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament.
Ateneo center Ange Kouame played just four minutes and 10 seconds in the first half after being called for two quick fouls. He sat out the entirety of the second quarter. Yet the Green Archers were unable to capitalize on the absence of the league's leading shotblocker, and trailed 35-32 at the break.
"We were trying to capitalize on it," said La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren after the game. "But we were not getting something out of it."
"We still have to run what we're supposed to run. But as I've said, I didn't wanna force it, dahil wala kaming nakukuha eh, wala kaming nakukuha sa ganoon," he added.
Despite Kouame's absence, the Green Archers were unable to dominate the paint. They scored just 10 inside points in the first half and veteran big man Justine Baltazar made 3-of-9 shots for seven points.
Pumaren also noted that they "fell in love with the three-point shot," rather than attacking the Ateneo defense inside the paint.
"Kahit naagaw namin ang bola, and we got a one against three or a three against two, we still decided to shoot the 3-points," rued the coach, as La Salle went 3-of-9 from long distance in the first half.
"I must say that we didn't really have good shot selection during that stretch, that we could've taken advantage," Pumaren admitted.
The Green Archers paid for their failure to pull away from Ateneo in the third quarter, when Kouame returned to the floor. The Blue Eagles used a stunning 18-2 run to take a 17-point lead, 57-40, and they went on to win the game, 75-68.
Koume wound up playing just over 15 minutes in the first half, contributing five points, nine rebounds, and a steal in the win.
For La Salle point guard Evan Nelle, Ateneo's other big men did a solid job in defending while Kouame was on the bench in the first half. Even without the 6-foot-11 Kouame, they still had to deal with Geo Chiu, Matthew Daves, and Raffy Verano.
"You can't count anyone out, 'di ba. They have this saying na 'next man up,' and they're really living up to it," said Nelle, who had 20 points in a losing effort.
"It was our fault na we couldn't capitalize," he added. "That was our game plan, we have to attack Ange so we can get him out of the court. But, 'yun nga, we didn't capitalize."
The loss dropped La Salle to 5-3 in the Season 84, although they still remain in third place in the league standings. For Pumaren, however, the result showed that they must continue working on issues that were already exposed in the first round.
Specifically, the Green Archers' offense continues to be a problem. On raw statistics alone, they rank last in the league in points scored, and seventh in shooting percentage just behind winless University of the East.
"As I've said, we gotta play team ball for 40 minutes," Pumaren stressed. "We cannot play in stretches only, or in spurts."
La Salle returns to action next Tuesday, against University of Santo Tomas.