Similar to the first two meetings between the DLSU Green Archers and the ADMU Blue Eagles this season, Game 1 of the UAAP Season 80 Finals provided basketball fans another memorable match.
With reigning UAAP MVP Ben Mbala being held to only eight points in seven field goal attempts, Aljun Melecio spearheaded the offense and finally broke out of his shooting slump as he led all players with 24 points, while shooting 42 percent from the field. The former Rookie of the Year also grabbed two rebounds, dished out three assists, and had three steals in a team-leading 36 minutes of play.
Despite playing one of his best games this season, the sophomore guard downplayed his excellent performance and expressed his disappointment with the outcome of the match. The Green Archers were not able to complete the comeback as they fell short, 76-70, in the first game of the best-of-three series against their archrivals yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I just want to win Game 1 and yun lumabas yung game (ko), pero wala pa rin, talo pa rin,” said Melecio when asked about what changed after struggling to play at his best in the previous games.
The former Zobel standout quickly got his first field goal of the game after he stole the ball from Matt Nieto and converted a sublime spinning lay-up to give La Salle an early 8-6 lead in the opening quarter. He then made his first three-pointer at the 4:20 mark of the first quarter but it was not enough to stop the scoring run of the Blue Eagles as they quickly erected a 26-14 lead to finish the period strong.
Melecio finished the first half with 11 points and a steal to pace the defending champions. He added two more three-pointers in the last three minutes and 30 seconds of the second quarter to keep the Green-and-White afloat.
An unsportsmanlike foul committed by Anton Asistio on Melecio kick-started the scoring spree of the Green Archer in the second half as he was able to convert a free throw. Melecio followed it up by knocking down a three-pointer and making two more free throws to bring his scoring output to 17 points heading into the final canto.
After drilling his last three-pointer of the game at the 5:34 mark of the fourth quarter, Melecio also showed his defensive prowess in the crucial stages of the game. The Lasallian found himself in a mismatch, guarding Raffy Verano in the post but was able to stop the play as he was able to steal the ball and convert it into a fastbreak lay-up on the other end. The Green Archer also tipped a pass at the 3:02 mark of the final period as his intensity on the defensive end was showing after finally finding his rhythm on the offensive end.
His last field goal came after producing a fade-away jump shot near the left elbow with two minutes and 30 seconds left in the game clock. Although Melecio was being guarded by longer and taller defenders in Gian Mamuyac and Thirdy Ravena throughout the second half, he was still able to score enough baskets to keep the game close and give the Green-and-White a chance to win the match.
The Green Archer also gave credit to their archrivals for holding on to win but is looking forward to the next game already. A victory on Wednesday will push the series into a winner-take-all match while a loss will end La Salle’s season 80 campaign.
“Ateneo played great. We have to make better adjustments sa next game,” Melecio ended.