By Jerome Lagunzad
(The Arena, San Juan City)
2 p.m. – NU vs UST
4 p.m. – UP vs UE
Underrated yet efficient.
That’s what big man Santi Santillan proved yesterday as he provided the unlikely offensive spark in the second half, helping defending champion La Salle repeat over Adamson, 80-74, and tighten its grip on the second spot in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-5 Santillan scored all but two of his career-best 16 points after the turn, including a crucial short stab off a fly-by move against Soaring Falcons counterpart Tyrus Hill that sealed the deal for the Green Archers with 36 seconds remaining.
It was the third straight victory and eighth overall in 10 matches for La Salle, which trailed by as many as 10 points early on and needed some timely buckets and stops down the stretch to dodge Adamson’s upset ax.
The Soaring Falcons, meanwhile, stayed at third spot with a 6-4 mark.
A blue-chip recruit from University of Visayas, Santillan also hauled down 10 rebounds, half of them off the offensive end, and issued a pair of assists, doing his fair share to ease the load off La Salle’s main gunners.
“That’s the character of Santi. He’ll do everything to win. And that’s what mattered in the endgame,” said Green Archers’ wingman Ricci Rivero who continued his resurgence with a team-high 17 points.
Reigning league MVP Ben Mbala struggled from the field against the Soaring Falcons’ collapsing defense but he still came through with his usual numbers of 15 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to help the Green Archers’ cause.
Cameroonian Papi Sarr tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds while Jerrick Ahanmisi, Rob Manalang and Jonathan Espeleta combined for 40 points, 16 of them coming in the final canto where they took turns in keeping Adamson in the thick of the fight.
After La Salle appeared to have gained full control following Prince Rivero’s completed three-point play that gave it an eight-point lead, Adamson countered back by scoring 13 of the next 17 points and even regaining the upperhand at 72-71 with 2:19 left to play.
LA SALLE 80 – Rivero R 17, Santillan 16, Mbala 15, Montalbo 10, Rivero P 7, Melecio 5, Tratter 5, Caracut 3, Baltazar 2, Go 0.
ADAMSON 74 – Ahanmisi 17, Sarr 17, Espeleta 12, Manalang 11, Hill 8, Lojera 3, Manganti 2, Ochea 2, Bernardo 2, Pingoy 0, Zaldivar 0, Mustre 0, Chua 0, Frias 0.
Quarters: 13-17, 35-35, 58-54, 80-74.