It is to the delight of Filipino hoops fans that bitter rivals De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University will clash in the winner-take-all Game 3 of Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament today at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Green Archers try to complete the turnaround after dropping the series opener while the Blue Eagles hope to regain their composure and confidence after blowing a 21-point lead in Game 2 as they meet anew at 3:30 p.m.
La Salle rebounded from a 70-76 Game 1 loss with a thrilling come-from-behind 92-83 win the next game to tie the series and two-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ben Mbala refused to believe that his team holds the edge in the knockout encounter.
“When you play Ateneo, there’s no underdog. There’s no one having the upper hand. Everyone can blow you out, everyone can play like champions. So, when you go there (in Game 3), you have to give your everything,” said Mbala, who bounced back from a poor Game 1 performance with 20 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in Game 2.
“Everyone wants to be champions. We go here to be champions, that’s what we all work for. We’re gonna come out to try to grab that trophy,” the Cameroonian center added.
After a career-low eight-point performance, Mbala anchored the Green Archers’ fightback in Game 2 together with Ricci Rivero, Andrei Caracut, Aljun Melecio and Kib Montalbo.
Ateneo chief deputy Sandy Arespacochaga admitted La Salle outplayed them especially in the second half and hopes the Blue Eagles to learn from their mistakes and move on from that meltdown.
“Learn from our mistakes. That’s the most important thing that we always tell our players. In life, you make mistakes. Learn from it so you don’t do it again. And hopefully, it would pay dividends for us in Game 3,” said Arespacochaga.
“We still have an opportunity to win the championship, that’s what coach Tab (Baldwin) mentioned in the dugout (after Game 2). We need to learn in this game but at the same time, we can’t hang our heads and think of this missed opportunity,” he added.
The Blue Eagles were poised to snatch their ninth UAAP title and first since 2012 after erecting a 45-24 lead midway in the second canto but the Green Archers refused to hand the throne to their bitter rivals on Wednesday with a 40-10 salvo to take a 68-59 lead entering the fourth period en route to their shock win.
La Salle is shooting for its 10th UAAP title and second in a row under head coach Aldin Ayo.