UAAP: La Salle cuts Ateneo’s automatic finals trip

    MANILA, Philippines - Not so fast Blue Eagles! The De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers derailed their archrivals’ automatic trip to the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball finals and avoided a sweep as they handed Ateneo its only loss in the tournament, 79-72 on Sunday, November 12, 2017 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

    UAAP: La Salle cuts Ateneo’s automatic finals trip
    Monster numbers for Ben Mbala 28 points, 18 rebounds, 6 blocks and 6 steals. Photo Credit: abs-cbn.com

    It was October 8 this year since these archrivals first met in Season 80. Both teams were separated by just a half-shot, 76-75 in favor of the Katipunan-based, Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles.

    Since the season opened, the Blue Eagles remained unbeaten. Today, the defending champions, the Green Archers tried to break the ice to prevent their arch nemesis in taking the automatic finals spot.

    The Green Archers opened the scoreboard and kept the Blue Eagles scoreless for the 1st 3 minutes.

    Midway of the 1st, the game was tied at 7-all. But Ateneo got too unlucky after its biggest player, Chibueze Ikeh was whistled for his 2nd personal foul. Backup big man Isaac Go checked in for Ikeh and promptly scored under the basket against La Salle’s Ben Mbala.

    Another problem came up for Coach Tab Baldwin as streak shooter Jollo Go started to heat up from the rainbow country. Timely explosion of Matt Nieto from all angles of the floor provided much-needed help for Ateneo as they kept the advantage after the opening quarter, 22-17.

    Coach Aldin Ayo didn’t like the smaller Ateneo taking the lead as the first ended so he went for his big guns Ben Mbala and Abu Tratter as his starters for the 2nd period to turn the momentum to La Salle’s side.

    Coach Ayo’s decision to bring in his howitzers paid off as the Archers dominated the boards and gave Mbala 8 quick points off offensive rebounds. Despite La Salle’s full control of the shaded lane, Coach Baldwin didn’t bother to sub in Chibueze Ikeh as his 2nd string center played very well offensively.

    Without a big defender, basketball looked too easy for the Cameroon National player Ben Mbala. Mbala’s onslaught gave way for La Salle to catch up and tie the game at 30-all with over 3 minutes left in the half. Mbala however sustained a bad fall after a rebound battle but signaled that he was ok and continued to play.

    Ricci Rivero’s three pointer totally grabbed the lead from the Eagles and turnovers started to pile up for Coach Tab Baldwin and his boys. Chibueze Ikeh checked back in to stop the surging Ben Mbala. Ike’s presence didn’t make any difference for Ateneo as La Salle wrapped up the 1st half with the 37-35 lead.

    As the 3rd quarter started, Ben Mbala continued to punish Ateneo under the rim. Along with that, Chibueze Ikeh sustained his 4th personal foul and immediately relegated to the bench to preserve his last foul.

    Thirdy Ravena sensed that his team was in real deep trouble, so he stepped up and managed to retake the lead from the Archers. Ravena even sized up against Ben Mbala and duped the Cameroonian in one play. Ravena outwit Mbala on the three point lane and and got fouled. The King Eagle sank all his foul shots to widen their lead.

    Ateneo has totally regained full control of the game with the help of Matt Nieto and Jolo Mendoza. Raffy Verano somehow contained and slowed down the monster Mbala as the Eagles finished the third quarter with a 9-point, 63-54 lead.

    Blue Eagles hit the dozen lead as Chris Porter sank a trey but the Archers countered with a quick 4 points as the final quarter unfolded.

    The Archers made an 8-0 run to bring the lead down to just 2. Isaac Go unleashed a ring-less trey to extinguish the waxing hot hands of La Salle and bring Ateneo’s lead to 5 again.

    Ben Mbala was simply unstoppable in this game. With 5 more minutes left in the game, he had already posted 26 points, 18 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 blocks. With his efforts, La Salle just trailed Ateneo by 2 points.

    At the 2-minute warning, Ateneo was protecting a 5-point thin lead. La Salle started to applied pressure defense and forced Ateneo to commit turnovers that they converted them into valuable points.

    With 1:21 remaining, the Green Archers were able to bring the lead down to just 1. Kib Montalbo’s floater gave La Salle the advantage with 40 ticks left in the game clock.

    Ateneo had the chance to win the game with 12 seconds remaining. Isaac Go took the shot from the inbound but missed. Go then intentionally fouled Ricci Rivero to stop the clock. Rivero completed the foul shots for a 3-point lead, 79-76 and closed the eliminations with a win.

    Ateneo, despite the loss, will still cling onto the top spot and will face FEU Tamaraws in the semifinals that will start on November 18. La Salle on the other hand, will face the Adamson Falcons.

    — Joey Boy Capos, The Summit Express

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