The DLSU Green Archers will look to bounce back from a heartbreaking defeat in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 80 Finals tomorrow, 4 pm, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The defending champions failed to complete a comeback as they succumbed to the ADMU Blue Eagles, 76-70, which pushed the Green-and-White to the brink of elimination.
“Ateneo played a better game than us. They were able to score down the stretch and make good stops,” said Ben Mbala when asked about his thoughts on the Game 1 loss.
Examining game one
Aljun Melecio led all players with 24 points, while shooting 42 percent from the field. The former Zobel standout also filled up the stat sheet as he accumulated two rebounds, three assists, and three steals in a team-leading 36 minutes. It was a sublime performance for Melecio as he finally returned to form after struggling to play at his best in the previous games.
The former Rookie of the Year stepped up and spearheaded the offense as Mbala was shut down to only eight points, his lowest scoring output of his UAAP career. The latter had difficulty in building up his offensive rhythm as the Blue Eagles threw multiple defenders at him once he got the ball in the post. Mbala’s defense was also affected as he was riddled with foul trouble throughout the match which caused him to play less aggressively.
The Lasallians had another slow start as they found themselves down big at the end of the first quarter, 26-14. This has been a massive problem for the Taft-based squad their entire Season 80 campaign as they have had to rely on comebacks to notch victories away from their opponents. The Green Archers almost pulled off another come from behind victory but the Blue Eagles remained poised to hold on to the win behind the efforts of Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and the Nieto twins, Matt and Mike.
Game 1 also featured a few in-game scuffles which led to both teams getting technical and unsportsmanlike fouls in various occasions. One physical play that stood out was when Mbala tried to get to the basket and hit Ma. Nieto with his elbow. “It’s part of basketball. I had the ball, I spin, he was late on the rotational double and that’s why he got hit. I didn’t intend to hit or hurt him.”
The Blue Eagles managed to limit the two-time MVP to a lackluster performance of only eight points and three out of seven shooting from the field. Moreover, another crucial piece of the Green Archers, Ricci Rivero, was shut down to only 10 points and three rebounds. The athletic off-guard shot only 36 percent and made none out of his four attempts from behind the arc. “Well, they played good defense. They were able to hold me down to eight, I give it to them. Well, it’s just Game 1, we’ll find a way to bounce back and play to it,” commented Mbala, who remains optimistic after a subpar performance.
“And also, we got outrebounded, something that shouldn’t happen. We’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league and we gotta be able to do what we do best, rebound and sprint,” claims the Cameroonian. Ateneo outhustled La Salle in the rebounding department wherein ADMU grabbed a total of 45 rebounds compared to only 37 from DLSU which gave the Blue-and-White a handful of second chance opportunities.
With the championship on the line, the Green-and-White will need to find a way to get their rhythm back and distribute their offense evenly as the Blue Eagles will try to reimpose their smothering defense on La Salle’s vital cogs. More so, DLSU needs to do what it does best, which is play good defense, to stop ADMU’s fluid plays and avoid unnecessary fouls in the process.
“Stick to our game plan. I feel like Coach (Aldin) Ayo has a perfect and splendid game plan for us but we just have to stick to the game plan and play together as a team,” said Mbala as they strive to defend the title and extend the series to an all-or-nothing match.
For the second straight season, Mbala will receive the UAAP Most Valuable Player award after garnering an astonishing 96.58 statistical points. The two-time MVP finished the elimination round with a per game average of 26 points in 52.4 percent shooting, 13.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.5 blocks while only playing 12 games as he missed the first two games of the campaign due to his commitments with the Cameroon National Team in the FIBA AfroBasket.
Ricci Rivero is the second Green Archer to be named in the Mythical Five after garnering 56.29 statistical points. After playing sparingly last season, Rivero has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him by Ayo. The sophomore finished the elimination rounds with a per game average of 14.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.6 blocks while only starting seven games this season. Joining them in the Mythical Five are ADMU’s Ravena, UE’s Alvin Pasaol, and NU’s Jay-jay Alejandro.
The official awarding will take place at 2:45 pm, moments before Game 2 of the UAAP Season 80 Finals.