The La Salle Green Archers survived the biggest test of the young UAAP basketball season.
Living up to their billing as the team to beat, the Green Archers had to do it the hard way by erasing the nine-point lead of the National University Bulldogs before hacking out a 75-66 victory yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
La Salle overcame a 52-43 deficit in the third quarter behind its dreaded pressure defense coupled with timely baskets from Jeron Teng, Abu Tratter and rookie Ricci Rivero to remain unbeaten after four games at the expense of the team many believe could be the stumbling block in its bid to win the title in grand fashion.
Teng dropped eight of his 23 points in the fourth quarter despite four personal fouls, Rivero had six points while Tratter scored four of his six points during a key pullaway that saw La Salle closing the game by outscoring NU, 13-2.
“We were physically and mentally ready for the grind. Yun naman talaga lagi e, ubusan at saka survival of the fittest,” said La Salle coach Aldin Ayo, who remained unbeaten in his first year since his stunning transfer from Letran to the Taft-based campus.
Matt Salem had 15 points and nine rebounds in his first game against his former team, J-Jay Alejandro scored 14 while Rev Diputado aded 10 points, five rebounds and four assists but NU failed to sustain its lead and dropped to a tie for second place with Adamson at 2-1.
The Green Archers reduced the 52-43 deficit with a 9-2 third quarter windup before Teng, Tratter and Rivero led the fourth quarter charge even as the rest of the crew forced NU to commit numerous turnovers.
La Salle’s Ben Mbala was challenged heavily in the shaded lane and committed his fourth foul seconds into the payoff period. The highly-touted center from Cameroon still finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
LA SALLE 75 – Teng 23, Mbala 16, Trater 6, Rivero R. 6, Montalbo 5, Melecio 4, Torres 4, Go 3, Caracut 3, Baltazar 3, Rivero P. 2, Sargent 0.
NU 66 – Salem 15, Alejandro 14, Diputado R. 10, Morido 7, Sinclair 6, Abatayo 4, Aquino 3, Diputado C. 2, Aroga 2, Salim 2, Mosqueda 1, Gallego 0, Rangel 0, Yu 0.
Quarters: 17-16; 37-37; 52-54; 75-66.