By Jerome Lagunzad
(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. – UE vs Ateneo
4 p.m. – FEU vs UP
Defending champion La Salle repeated over University of the East yesterday and earned a fitting incentive.
Getting a big lift from their talented shocktroopers, the Green Archers pulled away from the Red Warriors early on and proved steadier down the stretch, leading to a wire-to-wire 99-78 victory and a Final Four berth in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Reigning league MVP Ben Mbala (25 points and 14 rebounds) and fellow starter Santi Santillan (14 and 11) came through with double-double performances but it was La Salle’s bench mob that enabled the Archers to break away from the Warriors.
Shifty guard Ricci Rivero tallied 13 points, including an emphatic LeBron James-esque throwdown in their strong response in the closing minutes, while back-up big man Justine Baltazar made all of his six field goals and also finished with 13 markers as the Green Archers racked up their fourth straight win and ninth overall in 11 matches.
More importantly, La Salle tightened its grip on the second spot and joined archrival Ateneo in the semifinal stage – its fifth time in the last six years. UE, meanwhile, suffered its eighth loss against three wins, staying at seventh spot but losing more ground in playoff positioning.
Ace forward Alvin Pasaol, who torched La Salle with 49 points in their first round encounter, struggled this time against the Green Archers’ air-tight defense, led by the 6-foot-7 Mbala, but still led UE’s attack with 23 points, spiked by three triples, on top of nine rebounds, two steals and an assist against five errors in 31 minutes.
In the other game, sophomore Jerrick Ahanmisi took charge down the stretch to help Adamson withstand stubborn University of Santo Tomas, 75-70.
Ahanmisi, the younger brother of Rain or Shine guard Maverick, drilled in 11 of his game-high 21 points in the final frame as the Soaring Falcons bounced back from an 80-74 loss to the Green Archers last weekend and improved their mark to 7-4, still good for third spot.
LA SALLE 99 – Mbala 25, Santillan 14, Rivero R 13, Baltazar 13, Melecio 7, Tratter 6, Montalbo 5, Rivero P 4, Caracut 3, Go 3, Gonzales 3, Paraiso 2, Tero 1, Capacio 0.
UE 78 – Pasaol 23, Olayon 18, Derige 9, Varilla 8, Maloles 6, Acuno 6, Cullar 4, Bartolome 2, Cruz 2, Manalang 0, Conner 0, Gagate 0.
Quarters: 28-18, 53-34, 77-55, 99-78.
ADAMSON 75 – Ahanmisi 21, Sarr 12, Pingoy 7, Ochea 7, Espeleta 6, Manganti 5, Lojera 5, Camacho 4, Manalang 3, Mustre 3, Hill 2, Bernardo 0, Zaldivar 0, Chua 0.
UST 70 – Basibas 17, Faundo 12, Akomo 10, De Guzman 9, Escalambre 8, Sta. Ana 7, Caunan 4, Lee 3, Macasaet 0, Garcia 0, Romero 0.
Quarters: 22-19, 37-33, 48-49, 75-70.