SIMON Atkins, the 21-year-old cage heartthrob from De La Salle University (DLSU), knows very well how to carry his team to victory against highly-favored and first round tormentor Far Eastern University (FEU) last Saturday.
In what was expected to be a slow, bumpy ride for both teams, La Salle blasted FEU, 26 to nine in the payoff period while stopping FEU star Ryan Roose Garcia en route to the school’s seventh win in eleven outings.
And thanks to Atkins, La Salle is now on track to regain the Final Four spot they lost for the first time last year.
The former La Salle Zobel standout buried 10 of his 19 points in the final period to let his team emerge from an eight-point deficit and pulled off an 80-66 major upset over FEU, which dropped to 9-2.
“I didn’t want to let the team down," said Atkins, named as the Accel-Filoil UAAP Press Corps Player of the Week.
He is the second La Salle player to receive the award after Samuel Joseph Marata's late-game heroics against Ateneo last July 24 earned raves from the press.
Ateneo's Ryan Buenafe, who registered a double-double to lead the Blue Eagles to their 12th straight Final Four appearance last Sunday, also earned a citation from the weekly honor backed by Gatorade and Terrilicious.
The former San Sebastian Staglet posted 14 points, 12 rebounds while batchmate Nico Salva chipped in 13 points.
Atkins took on the leadership role despite sustaining a cut that needed four stitches on his left eyebrow due to Garcia's inadvertent elbow in the second quarter.
“Even if I got injured, I still wanted to play and fortunately I had a good game,” said Atkins.
It was a good riddance for the Taft-based squad, which lost to FEU in two overtimes on July 29 and lost heavily to archnemesis Ateneo Blue Eagles last August 22, 74-57.
“Coach Dindo (Pumaren) really challenged us that if we want to bounce back from that loss, we can bounce back strong by beating FEU, the No. 1 team in the UAAP,” said Atkins.
In an earlier interview, the King Archer said he is up for the challenge in erasing the dark memories of Season 72, when La Salle was ousted from the semifinals since the format was introduced in 1994.
“Over the past year, I noticed that the defense on me was sagging. They were letting me shoot. It looks like they don’t respect my shooting,” said the psychology student.
“Before, I was always hesitating to shoot. But during the offseason I worked on my shooting. I hope they respect me now,” Atkins added after their season opening victory against University of the Philippines on July 10, where he tallied a career-high 20 markers.
La Salle indeed found its new hero in Atkins, along with seven rookies who are more than willing to cop the school’s first men’s basketball crown in three years.
“I don’t remember the last season. I moved on. It’s a new year, a new season. We need to get back on track, because last year was not good,” he said. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)