Despite firing a staggering 115 points en route to their second win of the season, it was defense in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that enabled the DLSU Green Archers to notch win no. 2 in Season 80 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament. With the score tied at 106-all, La Salle’s Mayhem defense limited the NU Bulldogs to just three points in the last 2:40 in a scintillating show of firepower from both squads at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With reigning UAAP MVP Ben Mbala still unavailable due to his just-ended national team commitments with Cameroon, it took the combined efforts of sophomores Ricci Rivero and Aljun Melecio, Jolo Go, and rookie Santi Santillan to quell NU head coach Jamike Jarin’s vaunted “40 minutes of hell”.
The bang-bang affair started right at the opening buzzer where the defending UAAP champions nursed a slim 31-29 lead after a fast-paced opening 10 minutes. Melecio continued to torch the nets by making three of the team’s nine total three-pointers by halftime but it was Go who surprised the NU defense by hitting his mark (3/5) from long-range. Thanks to the exploits of the two plus the continuing solid play of big man Abu Tratter and Santillan, DLSU was able to tame the Bulldogs, 65-61 at halftime.
Head coach Aldin Ayo however, was wary of the team’s lack of interior defense that resulted in easy lay-ups by NU’s Jayjay Alejandro and Jordan Bartlett. Led by the latter, NU opened the third frame with an out-of-nowhere 12-2 run to seize the control of the game, 73-67. Go’s hot shooting, together with better effort on the defensive end by the DLSU five again tied the game at 82-all at the 2:14 mark and setup as wild finish to the game.
Rivero, bouncing back from a two-point, one-for-11 outing against FEU last week, didn’t look too eager this time around. His nine-point, fourth quarter output plus several impressive Euro-step moves toward the basket were much needed during crunch time. Two freebies plus a conversion by Ricci turned a 106-107 deficit to a 110-107 cushion at the 2:00 mark. The team’s next basket, a great feed to older brother Prince with less than a minute to go, practically sealed the win for the Archers, 115-109.
The younger Rivero bounced back with 21 points, seven rebounds, and two assists. Melecio, the leading scorer in the win against FEU continued his stellar play with 20 points (5/8 3-point field goals), two rebounds, and eight assists. Santillan once again contributed solidly for the Green and White, tallying 13 points and hauling down 16 rebounds.
Team captain Kib Montalbo, Tratter, and even Melecio had to battle foul trouble for most of the second half but ultimately didn’t prevent the three from being making their marks on the game. Montalbo was even responsible for two key defensive plays down the stretch, a tap to prevent an easy fast break basket and a steal, to keep DLSU’s win-loss record immaculate at 2-0.
With Mbala expected to be back on the floor when La Salle takes on the Adamson Soaring Falcons (September 20 at the Mall of Asia Arena), it will be interesting to see how both the Season 79 MVP and the team adjust to one another and how much more menacing DLSU’s Mayhem system will be going forward.
DLSU 115 – Ri. Rivero 21, Melecio 20, Go 19, Santillan 13, Tratter 11, Ra. Rivero 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