By Jerome Lagunzad
2 p.m. – Ateneo vs UST
4 p.m. – La Salle vs NU
Reigning league MVP Ben Mbala doesn’t mind if he spends more time on defending champion La Salle’s bench than on the court.
After all, it could only mean that his local Green Archers teammates are getting the job done while giving him a needed breather ahead of the bigger battles in the UAAP basketball tournament.
“I’m happy I was able to rest, you know,” beamed the 6-foot-7 Cameroonian big man after playing for less than 20 minutes in La Salle’s 94-59 thumping of University of Santo Tomas over the weekend.
Despite his limited stint, Mbala still emerged as the team’s top scorer with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and went a rebound shy of a double-double performance on top of three rebounds, one assist and a steal against a lone error.
More than his individual numbers, Mbala sounded more pleased to see the other Green Archers, including their shock troopers, performed to their expectations as they closed in on the remaining twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four round.
“Mayhem is not something that’s easy to do, especially when you stay in there for more than 20 minutes. But if it’s less than 20 minutes and the team is still doing good, at least it means somehow that the second group is also doing well,” he said.
Three-point specialist Jollo Go tallied 12 points, all coming from beyond the arc, while veterans Prince Rivero and Abu Tratter combined for 18 points and 20 rebounds as La Salle’s talented backups outplayed their UST counterparts underscored by a big 42-10 scoring advantage.
“Dito sa stretch (the team’s five-game winning streak), umiikot ang bola tapos ‘yung points ko, galing sa fastbreak (plays) or off a cut,” added ace guard Ricci Rivero. “Kapag mag-stick kami sa system, maraming options na lalabas. Doon kami mag-i-start na maging patient as a team.”
Including Mbala, who is starting to embrace the Green Archers’ rejuvenated form after doing some heavy lifting early on. “It’s good for us, because in the first round, we had problems with our second group. But now they’re able to catch up and do a great job,” he said.
“It’s easier for us, it’s easier for me since I can get time to rest. Especially that we know that we need to start the Final Four very strong, and me having a little of minute to rest, that’s fine with me. I’m enjoying it.”
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