Ben Mbala came through with a monster performance as De La Salle University drubbed National University (NU), 101-76, to snare the last twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 80 men’s basketball tournament on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Mbala erupted for 30 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting clip as the Green Archers secured the No. 2 spot after the elimination round with an improved 11-2 win-loss record.
The reigning Most Valuable Player also tallied eight rebounds, an assist and a block while shooting 14-of-20 from the free throw line.
Ricci Rivero contributed 16 points to go with six rebounds, two assists and a steal for the Archers, who secured this huge win heading into their match against archrival Ateneo De Manila University.
“This is a morale booster for us especially we’re going to face Ateneo next game. We want to win that game so that our confidence will remain going into the Final Four,” said La Salle captain Kib Montalbo.
Jayjay Alejandro and Enzo Joson scored 20 points apiece while Issa Gaye had 12 markers and eight boards for the Bulldogs, whose playoff chances are now in danger after dropping to 4-8.
Following a tightly contested opening period, the Archers fired on all cylinders to ignite a 15-5 run in the second period en route to a 47-35 lead at the half.
Mbala and Montalbo joined forces in posting eight unanswered points as La Salle closed out the third frame with a comfortable 73-57 cushion.
Jolo Go’s booming trey on transition gave the Taft-based team a massive 81-59 advantage with 8:21 remaining and the Archers kept the Bulldogs at bay for the rest of the game.
Earlier, leading Ateneo de Manila University leaned on a strong fourth quarter as it cruised to a 102-83 romp over also-ran University of Santo Tomas (UST) to step closer to a sweep of the double-round eliminations.
After weathering a third quarter storm, the Blue Eagles went on a fiery payoff period en route to posting a pristine 12-0 slate, two wins away from a sweep that will send them straight to the championship series.
“We expected that they (UST) would give their best and would play hard. It’s a good thing that our players responded to their challenge,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
“They pushed our game to the next level. We’re happy with the fact that our players stepped up,” added Arespacochaga.
Thirdy Ravena led the cagers from Katipunan with 20 points, including a thunderous dunk in the pivotal final frame, while Matt Nieto was the other Eagle in double-digit scoring with 19 markers highlighted by five triples.
Wendell De Guzman finished with 19 points while Jordan Sta. Ana and Steve Akomo added 13 markers each for the Growling Tigers, who remained winless in 13 games.