In a high-scoring contest, De La Salle University needed key defensive stops in the end game to outlast National University, 115-109, and get a share of the lead in Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Green Archers again labored their way to victory without reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ben Mbala and just like in their 95-90 victory over Far Eastern University, the defending champions showed poise down the stretch to nail their second straight win and join chief rival Ateneo de Manila University at the top spot.
Ricci Rivero led La Salle’s balanced attack with 21 points and had a key assist to elder brother Prince that practically sealed the hard-earned victory for the Taft-based squad.
“It was a good game. We showed lots of tenacity. We were resilient and the composure was there,” said Green Archers head coach Aldin Ayo, who also drew 20 points and eight assists from sophomore guard Aljun Melecio.
“We were able to execute our plays especially in the end game,” Ayo added.
Jollo Go chipped in a career-high 19 markers, eight came in the third period where La Salle rallied from a 69-80 deficit and carried a 91-88 lead entering the fourth period.
It was a seesaw battle in the final canto with the Bulldogs even ahead by one, 107-106, on Issa Gaye’s split.
The Rivero brothers accounted for La Salle’s next three points for a 110-107 lead and NU fumbled on its next two possessions, which the Green Archers failed to capitalize.
Montalbo made a key defensive stop, tapping the ball from Jayjay Alejandro in what could be a sure basket for the Bulldogs. He completed a steal in the next play that led to Ricci Rivero’s feed to Prince for a 112-107 advantage with 25.3 ticks left in the game.
Gaye had a quick basket for the Bulldogs, 109-112, and after a split by Melecio, Matt Salem’s triple rimmed out that spelled the doom for NU, which dropped to 1-1 in the standings.
“We have the same system. We keep on running,” said Ayo when asked of the offensive-minded contest against Jamike Jarin, whom he had interesting battles in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“It’s like watching a lawn tennis game. We take pride with our conditioning program,” he added.
Rookie Jordan Bartlett had an impressive showing for the Bulldogs with 23 points while Alejandro and Gaye added 18 and 16 markers, respectively.
La Salle managed to stay unbeaten despite missing the services of Mbala, who represented Cameroon in the FIBA Africa tournament. The six-foot-seven Mbala is expected to play on Wednesday against Adamson, according to Ayo.