By Marisse Gabrielle Panaligan
The Green Archers never left the driver’s seat.
De La Salle University’s Simon Atkins took full control of the game against the University of the Philippines, throwing in 20 points of the 80-62 rout, posting La Salle’s first win in the first round of the UAAP Men’s Basketball tournament at the Araneta Coliseum Saturday.
Atkins’ four three-point shots and two free throws kept La Salle up the entire game. La Salle’s team captain finished with three steals, two rebounds, two assists and one block.
Woody Co and Michael Silungan boosted the Maroons’ offense with 17 points apiece but the Archers’ Maui Villanueva and Joseph Marata stepped up and combined for 23 points.
“We are not that tall; our only advantage is our speed. Everyone clicked and we got a win,” Atkins said.
The La Salle team is being headed this year by a new coach, Dindo Pumaren, younger brother of former coach Franz Pumaren, and is mostly composed of rookie players.
The Maroons tried to keep it close, answering every free throw and three-point shot of the Archers with their own but the closest they got was 31-34 at the end of the first half.
The Archers stretched their lead to double digits after their offensive assault on the inside early in the second half, forcing the Maroons to lose their grip on the score.
The Maroons tried to bridge the gap but their consistency in the free throw line and the three-point arc declined in the end game.
“There is no rhythm. The team is kinda off,” said Silungan, who promised at the UP Pep Rally Friday evening he would lead the Maroons to the Final Four this year.
With barely nine minutes left in the game, Atkins’ steal delighted the La Salle crowd as he ran towards the ring and made an easy basket, stunning the Maroons.
The Archers’ lead ballooned to 22 points but the Maroons fired two more shots before the buzzer, ending the game in 80-62.
“We will forget this game and move on,” UP Coach Aboy Castro said.
Rookie Jett Manuel was also seen in action for the Maroons, contributing five points and three rebounds.
“He (Manuel) needs to get more weight but I like the energy. He’s smart and I like the way he plays,” said Castro.