MANILA, Philippines -- De La Salle University is gunning for redemption after a painful end to its campaign in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament.
La Salle was a little over two minutes away from clinching a finals spot in Season 84 but suffered a stunning collapse against eventual champions University of the Philippines (UP). They were outscored, 22-4, down the stretch of their do-or-die game by the Fighting Maroons, and lost 78-74.
Raring to rebound from that painful defeat, La Salle now enters UAAP Season 85 as a top contender. They sent a warning to the league when they ruled the PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup, beating a Juan Gomez de Liaño-led Marinerong Pilipino squad in the finals.
La Salle head coach Derick Pumaren saw that run in the D-League as part of the learning process for his team. In particular, he wanted them to be better at closing out games, which had been a major weakness for them in Season 84.
"We just got to be a better team. We don't just want to be better, we want to be a championship-caliber team," said Pumaren after their triumph in the D-League. "This is one thing we're gonna work on, closing out games that we need to win."
"We fell short against UP. We won the Final 4 in the first game, but we did not close out," he added. "This is part of the program and we're trying to work on it, and I'm pretty sure that this will toughen the team."
The Green Archers, who went 9-5 in the Season 84 elimination round, lost star center Justine Baltazar and veteran Kurt Lojera to graduation, but will still have a terrific roster bannered by Mythical Team member Michael Phillips.
Deschon Winston is back for another campaign, along with top point guard Evan Nelle. Their most crucial addition is undoubtedly dynamic big man Kevin Quiambao, who had impressive stints with Gilas Pilipinas even before he played at the collegiate level.
"It's not going to be Kevin's team," Pumaren had warned. "It's more of a team effort, but Kevin will be a big part, and [he will] be a vital factor for the team going to the UAAP."
Like the other UAAP teams, the Green Archers also took advantage of a full preseason to build up for the Season 85 men's basketball tournament. Aside from competing in the D-League, they also played in the FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup, and went to Japan for more tune-up matches.
"We need this for the team," said Pumaren of their busy offseason, noting that they only played two or three games before Season 84.
La Salle will be immediately challenged in Season 85 as it opens its campaign against defending champion UP on October 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Catch replays of UAAP Season 84 games via the UAAP Varsity channel on iWantTFC, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.