By JEROME LAGUNZAD
2 p.m. – UP vs UE
4 p.m. – Ateneo vs FEU
La Salle coach Aldin Ayo couldn’t care less if reigning league MVP Ben Mbala is still not around. After all, the Green Archers are still getting the job done.
Defending champion La Salle outgunned National University, 115-109, yesterday to seize a share of the top spot in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Wingman Ricci Rivero fired a team-high of 21 points, nine of them coming in the final canto, while playmaker Aljun Melecio, backup Jollo Go and rookie big man Leonard Santillan chipped in offensively as the Green Archers overcame an 11-point, third-quarter deficit to score the come-from-behind win.
It was the second straight victory by La Salle against a perceived title contender.
“I always tell the players not to take away anything from basketball,” said Ayo, refusing to give the Green Archers any kind of excuse to put their guards down in the absence of the six-foot-seven Mbala who also sat out La Salle’s 95-90 win over Far Eastern University last week.
“Hindi pwedeng may darating at bababa kami. When Ben arrives, aangat kami kasama siya and talking about adjustments, wala naman masyado because hindi kami masyado nag-adjust dun sa pagkawala niya. Gusto namin pagbalik niya go agad.”
The 5-foot-7 Melecio had 20 points and eight assist while the 6-foot-6 Santillian, a blue chip recruit from University of Visayas, added 16 points and 16 rebounds, aside from taking on NU’s Senegalese import Issa Gaye.
Rookie Jordan Bartlett paced all scorers with 23 points while four other teammates scored in double figures but the Bulldogs practically ran out of steam after leading by as many as 11 points at 80-69 in the third canto, resulting to its first loss in two starts. The scores:
La Salle 115 – Rivero R 21, Melecio 20, Go 19, Santillan 13, Tratter 11, Rivero P 10, Caracut 9, Montalbo 8, Baltazar 4.
NU 109 – Bartlett 23, Alejandro 18, Gaye 16, Salem 12, Aquino 10, Morido 5, Diputado 5, Yu 4, Lastimosa 4, Tibayan 4, Abatayo 4, Mosqueda 2, Rangel 2, Cauilan 0, Joson 0, Flores 0.
Quarters: 31-29, 65-61, 91-88, 115-109.
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