De La Salle University became the first team to give an erstwhile unblemished Ateneo squad their first taste of defeat, 79-76, in a nerve-wracking collision in the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Sunday.
Down by seven in the final two minutes of the game, the Green Archers stormed back as they blasted off to a 10-0 run to shut down the Blue Eagles on their bid for an eliminations sweep and to force a Final Four.
“We didn’t quit like what coach told us. We kept pushing and we just gave out everything and we left the rest to God. He was able to help us win the game. That’s what we plan to do for the next few games”, Ben Mbala said.
Kib Montalbo made up for the crucial turnover and foul late in the first round as he hit the go-ahead bucket to put La Salle in the driver’s seat, 77-76, with 40.3 ticks left in the payoff period.
For Coach Aldin Ayo, he never doubted his leader because he knows that Montalbo always does what is best for the team.
“Well, that first game (in the first round), when Kib made those mistakes, he had lots of mistakes. It doesn’t change kung paano ko titignan si Kib. He committed mistakes but he’s part of the team. He’s one of my leaders, actually he is co-captain so whatever he does, I’m going to support him”, the fiery coach marveled.
Ateneo crew had a chance to pull off another heartbreaker, but Ateneo big man Isaac Go missed a hook shot that could have brought the lead back to Katipunan.
Ricci Rivero, then, grabbed the defensive board and went to the charity stripe where he calmly sank two free throws to push DLSU up by three, 79-76, with 8.9 seconds remaining.
Asked what was going in his head before taking the free throws, the high-leaping guard responded, “After nung foul siguro, nag-pray na lang talaga ko. Sabi ko, ‘Hindi ko kaya ‘to. Hindi ko kayang gawin ang anything na gagawin ko if hindi Niya (God) ko tutulungan. I offered everything sa Kanya kase prinactice ko naman yun (free throws) before and after every shooting namin. Yun lang, siguro kailangan mo lang din magtiwala sa sarili mo and kailangan i-offer mo rin siya kay God kase Siya naman yung source of everything.”
With no timeouts left, the Blue Eagles had to rush in bringing the rock down the floor. A triple-teamed Matt Nieto found an open Anton Asistio, who then faked off Abu Tratter. However, the younger Rivero was there to reject a potential game-tying trey.
Ben Mbala had a monster performance as the Cameroonian notched a double-double of 28 points and 19 boards while also doing work on the defensive end with six steals and six blocks. Ricci Rivero added 21 markers and five rebounds for the guys in Green.
Thirdy Ravena led Ateneo as he garnered 15 points, eight rebounds, and four dimes. Isaac Go scattered 13 points, six boards, and five assists while Matt Nieto chipped in 12 points.
La Salle took advantage of a foul-plagued Blue side, converting 20 points out of 29 attempts from the line against Ateneo’s 13 out of 19 tries. ADMU’s big men were all in foul trouble with Chiz Ikeh, Go having four and Vince Tolentino fouling.
The Final Four starts on Saturday, November 18, 4 pm at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Second seed DLSU will face third seed Adamson University Soaring Falcons. On the other hand, no. 1 Ateneo will barge into a slugfest against no. 4 FEU. The top two teams will have a twice-to-beat advantage.
DLSU 79 – Mbala 28, R. Rivero 21, Tratter 8, Santillan 7, Melecio 6, Montalbo 6, Go 3, Baltzar 0, Caracut 0, Paraiso 0, P. Rivero 0.
ADMU 76 – Ravena 15, Go 13, Ma. Nieto 13, Verano 9, Mendoza 7, Asistio 6, Toentino 6, Ikeh 4, Porter 3, Mi. Nieto 1, Black 0, Mamuyac 0.
Quarter scores: 17-22, 37-35, 54-63, 79-76.