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UAAP: Mbala, Ikeh form new rivalry

Ben Mbala (L) and Chibueze Ikeh (R) (MB photo)

Ben Mbala (L) and Chibueze Ikeh (R) (MB photo)

By JEROME LAGUNZAD

Reigning league Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala of La Salle is taking and making shots from beyond the arc and so does vastly-improving Ateneo reinforcement Chibueze Ikeh.

And that could only add another interesting sub-plot when the Green Archers and the Blue Eagles renew their storied rivalry in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

While the 6-foot-7 Mbala continues to look every inch an unstoppable force, Ikeh, his fellow Nigerian, has emerged as one of the most consistent performers in Ateneo’s impressive 6-0 start.

In the Blue Eagles’ methodical 96-83 victory over the National University Bulldogs last Saturday, Ikeh muscled his way to 18 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks — all team-highs — while outplaying his Bulldogs counterpart, 6-foot-10 Senegalese Issa Gaye.

What made Ikeh’s performance memorable was the pair of three-point shots he made.

“We weren’t surprised,” admitted Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga. “The coaches have been giving him the green light to shoot. He has a good rhythm to shoot it. People were surprised he even attempted but we’ve seen him shoot in practice and he’s been knocking it down.”

“Just having fun in doing my job,” was how Ikeh summed up his current sharp form. “Our coaches have been teaching me other facets of the game like shooting, dribbling, etc. I wasn’t feeling any pressure. I found myself open and I just had to shoot it and it went in.”

For sure, Ikeh’s latest weapon could serve the Blue Eagles in good stead especially when they try to stretch the floor and pull the ultra-athletic Mbala out of his comfort zone on the defensive end.

However, Ikeh knows it will take more than his individual brilliance if Ateneo intends to earn some measure of revenge after falling prey to Mbala and La Salle via a two-game sweep in last year’s finals.

“I have so much respect for Mbala. He’s the MVP. He’s a good player. But it’s just another game, another challenge. Just trust the coaches and we just have to play our game,” he said, adding the Blue Eagles should keep their guards up.

“Many made it (to 6-0) and didn’t get a championship. We just have to keep building on it and keep working hard for these games and hopefully at the end, we will get to that (winning the title) and not just winning games.”

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