DE LA SALLE played minus its head coach and resident star but hardly missed a beat in dismantling archrival Ateneo de Manila, 97-81, to sweep the first round of Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With mentor Aldin Ayo serving a one-game suspension and Jeron Teng watching at the bench in crutches due to ankle injury, the Green Archers were unforgiving with their trapping defense to book the lopsided win and swept the first seven games of the first round for the first time since 2002.
Ben Mbala had another dominating performance for La Salle with 28 points,13 rebounds and five steals, while drawing solid support from his teammates to hand the Blue Eagles their third loss in seven games.
It was Mbala’s seven straight double-double performances to emerge as the prime candidate for the season’s Most Valuable Player award.
Andrei Caracut and Abu Tratter chipped in 14 and 10 markers, respectively, for the Green Archers, who led by as much as 27 points, 85-58, early in the fourth period.
John Wong paced Ateneo with 15 points but the Loyola-based team simply had no answer for Mbala, who shot 11-of-13 from the field in 30 minutes of action. University of the East ast (UE) caught fire in the second to turn back Adamson University, 64-57, to nail its first win.
Facing a winless first round, the Red Warriors got their acts together in the final 20 minutes and completed the clutch plays down the stretch that were missing in their first six games to snap the bleeding.
“It was really a hard win for us. We’re up by five in the last six minutes, I told the boys nothing to celebrate yet. We just have to close out the game,” UE Head Coach Derrick Pumaren said.
“We haven’t play our full potential. We played for 40 minutes today, one thing we have not done. Even against La Salle, we played well in the second half. I just reminded them to keep on fighting,” he added.
Alvin Pasaol and Ronnie de Leon came through in the second half and finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively, for the Red Warriors, who trailed by as much as 13 points in the game.
The Soaring Falcons were even ahead at 38-27 early in the third when UE unloaded a 26-8 assault bridging to the final quarter to grab a 53-46 lead with 5:26 remaining.
Adamson threatened at 53-57 on Jerrick Ahanmisi’s three-pointer but Philip Manalang was steady in the free-throw line to keep the Red Warriors out of trouble and hand the Soaring Falcons their third loss against three wins.
Pumaren said their 78-84 loss to De La Salle helped them to prepare in the game against Adamson.
“We used that as our springboard going into this game. When you are 0-6, it’s hard to motivate the players. With the way we played in the second half [against La Salle], we stayed positive,” Pumaren said
The win was also bittersweet for the UE mentor as it was at the expense of his younger brother Franz, whom he faced years ago in the now-defunct Philippine Amateur Basketball League.
“I feel bad because we got our first win against him. Nothing personal. We need to win,” he added.
Papi Sarr finished with 13 points and 25 rebounds for Adamson, while Ahanmisi was the ony other Falcon in double figures with 10. Rob Manalang had a tough shooting game, finishing with just five markers on 1-of-12 shooting from the field, including 1-of-8 from the rainbow territory.
“Sobrang saya namin. First win talagang pinaghirapan namin, said Pasaol, who also had a solid game against the Green Archers.
Adamson with a 14-7 lead after the first period but the Red Warriors got their offense back in the second canto although the Soaring Falcons still lead at 30-21 at the half.
Image credits: Roy Domingo