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Big Ben makes grand return

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Saturday
(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. – UST vs FEU
4 p.m. – La Salle vs UP

Dunking the leather with force. Soaring high for rebounds. Swatting shots. And even draining threes – twice to be exact.

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That was how reigning league MVP Ben Mbala highlighted his royal return last night as defending champion La Salle turned back Adamson, 85-73, to gain a share of the lead in the UAAP basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The 6-foot-7 Mbala hardly missed a beat following his stint with his home country Cameroon in the AfroBasket as he tallied a career-best of 32 points on top of 10 rebounds, four blocks and a steal.

The prized Green Archers reinforcement already had 21 points in the first half alone where they raced to a lead as high as 24 before he came through with with clutch plays, highlighted by a powerful two-handed jam off a spin against Sean Manganti to keep the Soaring Falcons at bay.

“That was how we were expecting Ben to play following his AfroBasket experience,” admitted La Salle coach Aldin Ayo.

“I just told the boys as if nothing happened, as if Ben didn’t leave and as if we’re still playing like how we used to in our first two games.”

The victory was the third straight in as many matches for La Salle, enabling to tie archrival Ateneo atop the field.

Meanwhile, Adamson suffered its second loss in three starts and fell into a tie with idle host Far Eastern University from fifth to sixth spots with similar 1-2 records.

Earlier, National University outsteadied a stubborn University of Santo Tomas side, 94-84, to get its title campaign back on track.

The Bulldogs absorbed the best that the Growling Tigers could offer in the first 33 minutes then came through with a methodical 17-6 closeout to give themselves a perfect tonic following a 115-109 loss inflicted by defending champion La Salle Green Archers over the weekend.

More importantly, NU jacked up its record to 2-1, tying idle University of the Philippines in the process. Meanwhile, UST dropped its third consecutive setback and joined University of the East at the cellar.

First Game
NU 94 – Gaye 17, Yu 13, Alejandro 12, Mosqueda 11, Bartlett 9, Salem 7, Cauilan 5, Joson 4, Abatayo 4, Aquino 3, Morido 3, Diputado 3, Lastimosa 3, Flores 0, Tibayan 0, Rangel 0.

UST 84 – Basibas 23, Sta. Ana 14, Faundo 9, Arana 8, Escalambre 8, Akomo 5, Lee 4, Huang 4, Macasaet 4, De Guzman 3, Kwawukumey 2, Caunan 0, Romero 0, Soriano 0, Lorenzana 0.

Quarters: 25-24, 51-50, 70-73, 94-84.

Second Game
La Salle 85 – Mbala 32, Santillan 10, Tratter 9, Rivero P 8, Rivero R 6, Motalbo 5, Caracut 5, Go 3, Baltazar 3, Melecio 2, Gonzales 2.

Adamson 73 – Manalang 16, Sarr 12, Ahanmisi 10, Pingoy 9, Manganti 8, Bernardo 8, Hill 6, Ochea 3, Lojera 1, Espeleta 0, Camacho 0, Mustre 0, Zaldivar 0.

Quarters: 36-12, 55-33, 70-61, 85-73.