Aside from the increased level of intensity that comes with the UAAP Men’s Basketball Final Four, the stories that accompany the teams further add flavor to the already competitive mix. Season 79 presents four squads that have gone through different paths in pursuing the much coveted championship that has only changed hands four times in the past decade.
Tomorrow, two of these teams will vie for a victory that will take them closer to the title. The DLSU Green Archers will look to make everyone’s expectations under head coach Aldin Ayo closer to reality as they only need one win to secure a spot in the finals.
Meanwhile, the AdU Soaring Falcons can continue to build on what is a new chapter under former Green Archers head coach Franz Pumaren. They will need to overcome a twice-to-beat advantage held by a team that has lost only once this season.
Green Archers sweep season series
The Green Archers continued to exert their dominance over the competition when they took a 91-75 victory over the Soaring Falcons in their first-round matchup. After a close opening quarter, DLSU shut down AdU in the final 5:15 of the first half to pull away from their opponents.
Ben Mbala was in a class above the rest as he finished with 21 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocks. Jeron Teng chipped in 15 points, while Kib Montalbo had a complete game with 12 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
Jerrick Ahanmisi was AdU’s top scorer as he finished with 22 points, while Robbie Manalang added 15 points. Papi Sarr was the only other Soaring Falcon in double-figures as he had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the loss.
In their second-round encounter, La Salle seemed poised to cruise to another lopsided victory after taking a 44-33 lead over AdU at halftime. However, Ahanmisi’s 11 fourth-quarter points kept AdU within striking distance. Also, Manalang’s two free throws with 1:26 left in the game cut the deficit to two, 81-79. A crucial three-pointer from Montalbo and two free throws from Mbala in the closing seconds of the game allowed DLSU to sweep the season series with an 86-79 victory.
Mbala led the Green Archers with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks despite missing nine of his 13 shot attempts. Rookies Ricci Rivero and Aljun Melecio played big roles in the win as the former had 14 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals, while the latter had 11 points on three three-pointers.
Ahanmisi led all scorers with 27 points, 17 of which came in the second half. Papi Sarr had 13 points and six rebounds, while Sean Manganti, who had six turnovers in the loss, added 12 points and nine rebounds.
Battle of the bigs
As it has been all year, the key to beating DLSU is stopping their recently crowned Most Valuable Player, Ben Mbala. Having averaged 20.6 points, 16 rebounds, and just a hair below two and a half blocks a game, the center has been the engine that has made the Green Archers go all season.
While no team has technically shut down Mbala on both ends of the floor, teams such as the ADMU Blue Eagles have been able to frustrate him. The Cameroonian has been vocal about the calls, or lack thereof, believing that several fouls committed against him are left uncalled. From an opponent’s perspective, it is much easier to stop a frustrated and annoyed Mbala than one that is locked in and concentrated. Look for AdU to play the big man physically in both box outs and defensive sets to get into the MVP’s head.
On the other side, the Soaring Falcons boast an impressive import of their own in Papi Sarr. The center was effective in both of their games, even scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting. While coach Pumaren was probably happy with the performance of Sarr, what is key for AdU is the ability of the team to match up with the rest of La Salle’s big men. As evidenced by the 46-18 advantage La Salle had in points in the paint in the first round meeting, players like Manganti and Kristian Bernardo will have to step up against the myriad of DLSU big men, including Abu Tratter, Prince Rivero, and Justine Baltazar, who have all shown they are capable of stepping up multiple times this season.
While DLSU does hold a twice-to-beat advantage over the Soaring Falcons, the Green Archers will look to do everything they can to make sure this is their last meeting with the Falcons. Coach Franz Pumaren, on the other hand, would love nothing less than to see his team push the favored Green-and-White to the brink of elimination.
A win for AdU would push the series to a winner take all game for a spot in the UAAP finals. Conversely, a La Salle win would guarantee the team a spot in the finals with either the FEU Tamaraws or the ADMU Blue Eagles.
The Green Archers face the Soaring Falcons on Wednesday, November 23, at 4 pm, at the Mall of Asia Arena.