De La Salle University held Ateneo de Ma-nila University scoreless in the final 2:23 and completed the scintillating comeback, 79-76, to deny its archrival of a sweep of Season 80 University Athletic Association (UAAP) men’s basketball on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ben Mbala anchored the Green Archers’ spirited rally with the help from Ricci Rivero and Kib Montalbo to halt the Blue Eagle’s 13-game winning streak and deny them of an outright finals berth.
La Salle’s win also set up the traditional Final Four pairings with Ateneo, still seeded No. 1, facing fourth seed Far Eastern University, while the No. 2 Green Archers meeting Adamson University in the other semifinal cast with the top two seeds holding a twice-to-beat advantage.
Mbala played like a man possessed with 28 points, 19 rebounds, six steals and six blocks while Rivero supported him with 21 markers, including the final two free throws with 8.9 ticks left to peg the final score.
Abu Tratter was also huge in the Green Archers’ comeback with eight points off the bench as La Salle avenged its 75-76 loss in the first round.
Thirdy Ravena paced the Blue Eagles with 15 points while Isaac Go added 13 but had a crucial missed attempt that could had given Ateneo back the lead after the Green Archers unloaded an 8-0 blast to take a 77-76 lead with 40.3 seconds remaining.
Mbala challenged Go’s attempt that led to Rivero’s two free throws, 79-76, and the latter completed his heroics after deflecting the three-point attempt of Anton Asistio as time expired.
“Big win. We got lucky in the end game. Luckily, Isaac Go’s semi-hook did not go in. I have to commend the players for their effort and following our game plan,” said La Salle head coach Aldin Ayo.
It was a tough loss for Ateneo, which was comfortably ahead at 76-69 on Vince Tolentino’s back-to-back baskets with 2:23 before La Salle unleashed the amazing comeback to inflict its rivals its only loss of the season.
Earlier, it was one win, actually the school’s first victory, but University of Santo Tomas (UST) felt it just won the championship.
After 13 games of misfortunes and bad breaks, the Growling Tigers finally finished off what they started and nailed their first win over University of the East (UE), 88-85, to avoid a winless campaign.
As the Red Warriors chased them every time they tried to pull away, UST came up with the clutch baskets, courtesy of Regie Boy Basibas, Steve Akomo, Marvin Lee and Christian Garcia, to give them the needed separation but had to watch Alvin Pasaol fumbled in the final play as the Growling Tigers snapped a 17-game losing streak dating back season.
The Espana-based squad still finished last in the eight-team field with a 1-13 win-loss record but the win saved them from further humiliations and criticisms after going 0-13 entering the Sunday’s match.
“We’re happy because we did not finish zero (wins),” said a teary-eyed UST coach Boy Sablan, who was ridiculed and bashed especially in the social media for failing to give the 18-time champion a win.
“I’ve been criticized many times even in media but I have nothing against you. As what I’ve told you, this is part of our rebuilding process. Our maturity, experience and exposure were not there in most of the games,” Sablan added.