(The Arena, San Juan)
12 noon – UE vs FEU
4 p.m. – Ateneo vs Adamson
La Salle coach Aldin Ayo celebrated his 39th birthday yesterday with a victory after the Green Archers staved off repeated rallies of the University of the Philippines Maroons, 78-72, in the UAAP basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Jeron Teng returned after missing two games because of a foot injury and scored 21 points but the Green Archers had to work themselves doubly hard against an underdog Maroons’ team that entered the game with back-to-back victories against fancied opponents.
The Green Archers once took a 16-point advantage which came in the first quarter, then kept the Maroons at bay after their lead dwindled to four twice in the second half to hike their unbeaten run to nine games and moved within a win shy of securing a Final Four berth.
Even if La Salle experienced of one of the season’s toughest games, Ayo was pleased with his team’s approach.
“Ok na kami sa panalo na yun,” Ayo told a handful of reporters who approached him after skipping the customary postgame interview at the press room. “Although it was a tough game, dun mo makikita na buo yung team.
“We played defense as a team, although nadisrupt kami dun sa camoflauge nila which is yung change-up nila sa defense.
Buti na lang we stuck together, maganda ang ball distribution, walang naghahanap ng puntos kaya maganda ang resulta.”
Ayo also welcomed the return of Teng, who erupted for nine points in the first quarter that saw La Salle at one point leading 26-9, its biggest of the game.
“Namiss din namin siya sa last two games, tumatakbo ang team namin at yung sistema namin sa kanya,” said Ayo.
UP, which fell to 3-7, was sent crashing back to earth after stunning Ateneo and Adamson to start the second round, but not before giving La Salle a competitive duel.
The Maroons’ closest chance at overtaking the Green Archers was when rookie Javi Gomez de Liano scored a layup in transition to pull within 52-48 near the end of the third.
But the Green Archers answered with a 16-4 run capd off by a putback by Prince Rivero to make it 66-52 with 5:35 left in the fourth.
La Salle center Ben Mbala had 17 points and 20 rebounds but the top Most Valuable Player contender had to sweat for his production against a determined defense by the Maroons frontline led by Andrew Harris.
Paul Desiderio scored 16 points, Jett Manuel had 13 while Gomez de Liano made all of his 11 points in the final two periods for the Maroons.
LA SALLE 78 – Teng 21, Mbala 17, Torres 13, Melecio 9, Rivero R. 9, Rivero P. 4, Montalbo 3, Caracut 2, Tratter 0, Perkins 0, Baltazar 0, Go 0.
UP 72 – Desiderio 16, Manuel 13, Gomez de Liano 11, Lim 8, Moralde 7, Harris 4, Prado 4, Lao 4, Espanola 3, Dario 2, Webb 0, Romero 0, Vito 0, Jaboneta 0.
Quarters: 25-14; 41-34; 55-48; 78-72.