WILL we see today a champ in Ateneo or a La Salle comeback?
Another win by Ateneo over La Salle will complete a major upset in their best-of-three Finals for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament crown.
That’s because the Blue Eagles of Katipunan defeated the Green Archers of Taft Avenue in a 76-70 thriller that had all the elements of a classic clash despite Ben Mbala’s shocking slump.
Mbala, the 6-foot-7 Cameroonian reigning Most Valuable Player for the second straight year, was a complete dud last Saturday as his anemic showing virtually caused La Salle’s downfall.
His eight points in the game where he attempted only a mere seven times paled in comparison to his 28 points when La Salle stopped erstwhile unbeaten Ateneo in the last game of the regular season.
Mbala even grabbed 19 rebounds in that win that snapped Ateneo’s 13-game winning streak and denied the Eagles an outright Finals berth.
But in last Saturday’s Game One of the Finals, Mbala behaved rather eerily, as he rarely showed his usual power-prone performance that keyed up La Salle’s 2016 title triumph.
And, for all intents and purposes, Mbala was the heart and soul of La Salle’s advance to the Finals yet again.
He was not even a shadow of his old self last Saturday, but rather, he was abysmally a thoroughly absent personnel from the La Salle lineup.
Well, in fairness, Ateneo did a good job in double-teaming, even triple-teaming, Mbala, practically reducing the La Salle pillar from heavyweight to deadweight.
If Ateneo can reprise that today, only Mbala can provide the answer.
It should be foremost in Mbala’s mind today that his heavily-favored La Salle squad is suddenly shoved into an unfamiliar must-win situation.
Another loss would send La Salle’s crown crashing to the ground and, more painfully, end Mbala’s final season on an ego-deflating, meaningless mode.
In fact, Ateneo longingly craves that like a vulture circling a carcass.
THAT’S IT June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer (SMB) finally showed his true worth as a national player when he played his finest game in helping power the embattled Gilas Pilipinas to a 90-83 victory over Taiwan on Monday. He fired 17 points, mostly crucial baskets, and grabbed eight rebounds, triggering the country’s two-game sweep of its Fiba World Cup qualifier at the Smart Araneta Coliseum following Gilas’ 77-71 win over Japan last Friday in Tokyo. Said Coach Chot Reyes of Fajardo: “June Mar saved us!” Ultimate compliment…. Here’s a glass to Ramon S. Ang, the SMB President and CEO, for being chosen Executive of the Year again in the 24th Annual Awards Night on Thursday of the Philippine Basketball Association Press Corps at the Gloria Maris Restaurant at Gateway of Smart Aranerta Coliseum in Cubao. It will be RSA’s second plum in four years, having won it first in 2014. Cheers!.. But why was one-Conference champion Tim Cone picked Coach of the Year over two-Conference champion Leo Austria (Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup)? As Yul Bryner said it in The King and I: “It’s a puzzlement!”
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