By Jerome Lagunzad
Games Today (Smart-Araneta Coliseum)
2 p.m. — UE vs FEU
4 p.m. — UP vs Adamson
Defending champion La Salle took care of business yesterday then set its sights on another vital assignment ahead.
Reigning league MVP Ben Mbala flexed his muscles throughout as the Green Archers proved too strong for the Bulldogs, 101-76, to clinch the remaining twice-to-beat bonus in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-7 Cameroonian powered his way to a game-high 30 points, 20 of them coming during a decisive breakaway in the middle quarters, as La Salle repeated over NU in dominant fashion and continued its resurgence with its sixth straight victory.
The Green Archers also tightened their hold of the No. 2 spot with an 11-2 mark and, in the process, ended the bid of idle Adamson Soaring Falcons, running at third with an 8-4 card, for the remaining semifinals incentive.
In addition, La Salle also primed itself up for its highly-anticipated rematch with archrival Ateneo on Sunday, with the Green Archers out to prevent the Blue Eagles from completing a 14-game sweep and an outright finals berth.
“Magpe-prepare na kami against Ateneo,” said shifty guard Ricci Rivero, who tallied 16 points on top of six rebounds and two assists. “We played as a team again and every game, we’re getting better and better.
Skipper J-Jay Alejandro and rookie Enzo Joson came up with 20 points each but the Bulldogs still lacked enough firepower to withstand the Green Archers’ onslaught, leading to their eighth loss in 12 matches, their chances of advancing to the next round getting slimmer.
Earlier, wingman Thirdy Ravena took charge down the stretch as powerhouse Ateneo pulled away from University of Santo Tomas for a 102-83 victory.
The 6-foot-3 Ravena, the younger brother of former two-time UAAP MVP Kiefer, dished out an all-around performance of 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while Matt Nieto fired away 19 points, spiked by five triples, to help the Blue Eagles’ dodge Growling Tigers’ upset ax.
More importantly, Ateneo racked up its 12th straight victory and inched closer towards a sweep of the eliminations while dealing UST its 13th consecutive loss, moving on the edge of a possible winless campaign.
The final scorer, however, didn’t show how tough it was for the Blue Eagles to secure the crucial win as the Growling Tigers scored 31 points in the third canto.
“It was a very, very tough game,” admitted Ravena. “We never took them lightly. They just played their hearts out. UST gave it their all. Good thing, we stuck to the game plan and my teammates did a great job in the fourth.”
After Oliver De Guzman pulled the Tigers within 77-80 with more than four minutes left, the Blue Eagles suddenly went on a tear as they scored in bunches anew and forced repeated stops.
Then Ravena had his shining moment when he received a kick out pass from Blue Eagles big man Chibueze Ikeh off an offensive rebound then jumped high for a slam.
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