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UAAP 80: La Salle’s ‘LeBron’ back vs Adamson

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. – NU vs UST
4 p.m. – Adamson vs La Salle

Reigning league MVP Ben Mbala is set to make his much-awaited debut in the UAAP basketball tournament today, giving defending champion La Salle another massive weapon of destruction against title contender Adamson at the Mall of Asia Arena.

La Salle's Ben Mbala gets ready to perfrom an ally-oop from Thomas Torres' pass during the UAAP match at MOA Arena in Pasay, October 2, 2016 (Rio Leonelle Deluvio)Fresh from an impressive showing for his home country Cameroon in the recent AfroBasket tilt, the 6-foot-7 Mbala should be ready in their 4 p.m. encounter with the Soaring Falcons as the Green Archers target a third straight victory and a share of the lead alongside archrival Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Although they didn’t have their prized African import in scoring their first two victories against Far Eastern University and National University, La Salle coach Aldin Ayo believes Mbala will have a seamless transition when he joins in today’s game.

The Archers average a mind-boggling 105.0 points per match in Mbala’s absence.

“Ben is a winner. For sure, he will blend in,” said Ayo. “Kung ano man ang maitutulong niya, gagawin niya. Excited na kami maglaro ng buo. Nandito na kami sa level na ganito tapos darating siya. For sure, he’s gonna help us a lot.”

Indeed. And if Mbala’s solid showing in the African cage qualifiers where he averaged 21.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, both second-best in the tourney, on top of 2.3 steals is any indication, then the Green Archers could only get better and stronger.

“Kung andyan si Ben, mas tataas pa ‘yung level namin,” stressed La Salle’s spitfire guard Aljun Melecio, who inflicted heavy damage against their initial foes underscored by his averages of 24.5 points, 5.0 assists and 2.5 steals.

Veteran Kib Montalbo earlier said he couldn’t wait to have Mbala back in harness. “May LeBron James na kami. Si Ben ang LeBron ng Pilipinas,” Montalbo shared after being told of the Cameroonian’s comfortability in hoisting three-point shots aside from rim-ratting dunks and inside incursions in the AfroBasket.

While an added excitement is in the air around Taft, the Soaring Falcons is getting their own confidence from an 88-81 victory over University of Santo Tomas last Wednesday when they suffocated the Growling Tigers no end, forcing a season-worst 41 turnovers.

Up against Mbala this time, Adamson’s Cameroon import Papi Sarr is hoping he’ll be in better shape after dealing with an injured groin last week.

Clashing in the 2 p.m. opener are NU and UST, with the Bulldogs aiming to get back on track and the Tigers raring to finally break the ice after three tries.

NU intends to bounce back from a 109-115 loss dealt by La Salle over the weekend, but Bulldogs coach Jamike Jarin admitted it’s easier said than done against the bleeding Growling Tigers.