A deciding match between the most heated rivals in college basketball will commence later today, 3:30 pm, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, as the DLSU Green Archers clash with the ADMU Blue Eagles for one last time in Season 80. After a convincing win last Wednesday, La Salle stunned Ateneo and forced an all-or-nothing match.
“When you play Ateneo, there’s no underdog, no having the upper hand. Everyone can blow you out, everyone can, you know, feel like a champion. When you have to go there, you have to give everything, the crowd is crazy and everyone wants to win it, everyone is dying for the ball, and it’s pretty crazy but you still have to find a way to stay focused and do whatever you have to do,” Ben Mbala explained on his experience in playing against ADMU.
Now, only four quarters remain in the final chapter of this season before the best in the UAAP will come out triumphant. Game 3 will be the determinant of either redemption for the team from Katipunan or a historic back-to-back championship for the Taft-based squad over their eternal rivals.
Revisiting Game 2
Ateneo had complete control of the game and were eager to end the finals from the get-go. Both Anton Asistio and Thirdy Ravena came out determined to finish off the Green Archers as they contributed a bulk of the scoring to build up a 21-point Ateneo lead. Conversely, La Salle’s main offensive pieces, Mbala and Ricci Rivero, both had a rough start wherein the latter was derailed due to foul trouble whereas the MVP was hindered with Ateneo’s defense focused on him.
“Actually that first quarter, medyo gigil yung mga players so we realized half of the second quarter that we really need to contain them because almost all of their points are coming from transition so yun, nakinig naman yung mga players and they really did well on containing (the players), lalo na si Matt Nieto,” claimed assistant coach Miggy Solitaria.
Only a late run coming into halftime, which was started by an alley-oop slam from Mbala, salvaged the Lasallians as they cut the deficit to nine. More so, the Green-and-White played tremendously well in the third period which served as the turning point, wherein the Green Archers outscored Ateneo, 26-8. Meanwhile, the Nieto twins and the Eagles’ bench were unable to keep up the pace and in the process, Ateneo succumbed to La Salle’s Mayhem defense. It led to seven turnovers in which the team from Taft converted eight points.
Key players also stepped up in the DLSU win. Kib Montalbo and Andrei Caracut supplied energy for La Salle to stay composed and play as a unit. Montalbo’s hustle once again gave momentum to La Salle as the veteran had three steals and five assists. Whereas, Caracut made timely baskets to keep Ateneo at bay. “Siguro marami lang akong pinaghugutan. Yun nga, habang naglalaro ako parang iba yung feeling eh, pag alam mo yung nakikita mo yung teammates mo na down, parang ayaw ko na may mawala sa amin pag natalo kami,” said Caracut after dropping 13 points in the comeback win.
The defending champions were able to limit the scoring of the Blue Eagles in the third quarter of the second game of the finals, as the Katipunan-based squad only managed to score eight points, while La Salle dropped 26 points in a crucial stretch that paved way for the Green Archers to turn the game around and tie the series at one game a piece.
Both teams committed 21 turnovers in the game but it was the Taft-based squad that dominated the paint and relied on scoring near the basket. The Green Archers scored 54 points inside the paint while only scoring 14 perimeter points. Mbala continued to play superb basketball as he was able to overpower the frontline of the Blue Eagles, making almost every basket near the rim. Ri. Rivero, who was hounded with four fouls as early as the second period, fearlessly attacked the basket in the second half to spearhead the offense for the Lasallians.
The rebounding battle was also equal at 41 each, but the Green Archers had the upper hand in the starter points, 71-51. With Ma. Nieto being held down to only 10 points while shooting 29 percent from the field, Aaron Black stepped up brilliantly as he scored 15 points off the bench to keep the Blue Eagles afloat in the fourth period.
For the Green Archers to claim the championship, Montalbo and Caracut will have to bring their fine form heading into Game 3 as both Mbala and Ri. Rivero will be heavily marked in the winner-takes-all match. Both guards were vital in the comeback as their intensity on the defensive end made it difficult for the Blue Eagles to get baskets. Aljun Melecio, who scored 24 points in Game 1, will also need to match that outstanding performance in order for the defending champions to secure a second consecutive championship.
On the other hand, the Blue Eagles will have to rely on their team depth and on the outside shooting of Asistio. The system of head coach Tab Baldwin allows every player to contribute on the offensive end and carry the scoring load at any game. Although Ravena has taken the spotlight due to his magnificent individual play, the system still applies for the Blue Eagles thus enabling them to make their opponents guessing on who will have the hot hand. Similar to the first match-up in the elimination round, Asistio waxed hot from three-point territory and his shooting for Game 3 of the Finals will be vital as it will create a lot of space for his teammates.
La Salle will also once again need to contain Isaac Go, who was limited to just one rebound in the Game 2 loss. He provides ADMU with a lot of second chance opportunities so containing him will be key. For Ateneo, its players will need to stay focused on the goal if they want to win. Many of its players, including Ravena who had seven turnovers, became too focused on causing more DLSU fouls instead of following the system that got them to this point.
Going for great
A victory for the Green-and-White will see them win consecutive titles for the first time since 1998, wherein it notched an impressive four-peat. It will also give head coach Aldin Ayo his third straight championship as he won the NCAA title with the Letran Knights before coaching the Green Archers.
“You know, coming into Game 3, we’re not coming here to lose the game. Everyone wants to be champion. That’s what we’re gonna work for and we’re gonna come out here to grab that trophy,” Mbala ended.