Game Wednesday (Smart-Araneta Coliseum)
4 p.m. — Ateneo vs La Salle (Blue Eagles lead series 1-0)
La Salle big man Ben Mbala sent Ateneo guard Matt Nieto crashing to the ground, his face bloodied after receiving an inadvertent right elbow that busted up a deep gash above his left eye.
The 6-foot Nieto, wounded and all, got back on his feet and soldiered on as he and the rest of the Blue Eagles made Mbala bleed for his points and foil the Green Archers, 76-70, in the opener of their UAAP Season 80 basketball finals series before a packed Saturday night crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Considered as the difference maker in the rematch of last year’s finals, the 6-foot-7 Mbala hardly made his presence felt as he came up with a personal career-worst of eight points, taking just seven attempts from the field and six from the free throw line, nearly half of his average numbers in the elimination round.
“Well, I could have played a better game than this,” admitted the Cameroonian, who added 12 rebound and four assists but accounted for three errors as the Blue Eagles’ collapsing defense forced him to kick the leather out to his Green Archers teammates when he’s trying to back his way down low.
“They played good defense. They were able to hold me down to eight. They just made sure that they will make me score the lowest point ever. That’s what they were able to do. You all guys saw, my team struggled a bit without me not being able to help in the offensive side.”
Indeed. Mbala, the league’s best scorer with 26.0 points per match, could not get anything going against Ateneo’s rock-solid interior defense that left him frustrated as he picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to play, with La Salle still playing catch up. (Jerome Lagunzad)