By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
WITH THEIR best-of-three University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) finals series now down to a winner-take-all Game Three, both the De La Salle Green Archers and Ateneo Blue Eagles are now fixed on said game, bent on winning it all.
Forced after the defending champions Archers bucked a poor start and came from behind to take Game Two, 92-83, last Wednesday, La Salle and Ateneo have vowed to come out in the sudden death able and ready to go to battle to be crowned Season 80 champion.
With its back against the wall, La Salle turned to the steady efforts of Ben Mbala, Ricci Rivero and Andrei Caracut to bail it out in Game Two and live to fight another day.
Stared at a 21-point deficit, 49-28, at one juncture in the opening half, the Archers dug deep in the second half to overhaul Ateneo’s control of the contest and eventually raced to the victory.
Mbala led La Salle with 20 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in Game Two with Rivero adding 18 points.
Guard Andrei Caracut bounced back from a so-so performance in Game One with 13 points.
While they are relieved and happy to have been able to extend the series and their title retention bid, Rivero said they should reserve the celebration until after they have completed their mission of defending their crown.
“It does not stop here. This is only Game Two and we just tied the series. The work continues for us in Game Three and if we want to remain champions we have to come in prepared and ready to play,” said Rivero, who did a good job staying in the game despite being slapped with his fourth personal foul early in the second period, after their Game Two victory.
Such thinking is not lost to Mbala, who officially claimed his second consecutive UAAP most valuable player prior to Game Two, saying that come Game Three it is either one wins or loses.
“I like how we came together in this game (Game Two) even when things were not going our way early and came back and win. In Game Three we have to show the same mind-set of togetherness. We have to come in wanting to win and grab that trophy,” said Mbala.
For the Eagles, their second-half “meltdown” was something they are ruing about but nonetheless they are moving on from as they still have the opportunity to claim the UAAP title in Game Three.
“We just have to learn from this. We have to learn how to be composed, not to show letup even when we are ahead and continue to play at a high level,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga after their loss.
“Hopefully we come with the right adjustments in Game Three. We lost this game but we still have the opportunity to win it,” he added.
Ateneo had it hot and going in the opening half of Game Two but just could not handle things when La Salle fashioned a massive charge back as the game progressed.
Thirdy Ravena led the Eagles with 20 markers while Aaron Black and Anton Asistio had 15 and 13 points, respectively.
“We have to regroup for Game Three. The opportunity to win is still there. We know La Salle will be coming in prepared and we have to be ready to counter it. It is going to be a tough game for sure,” Mr. Arespacochaga said.
Game Three of the finals is on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum at 3:30 p.m..
La Salle is looking to bag its 10th men’s basketball title in the UAAP and second straight while Ateneo is looking to tie the Archers for joint fourth overall with nine championships and first after five years.