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Marquee duel: La Salle vs Ateneo

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

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

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Today
(Mall of Asia Arena)
12 noon – NU vs UP
4 p.m. – Ateneo vs La Salle

As far as reigning league MVP Ben Mbala is concerned, there’s a lot at stake for defending champion La Salle today when it renews its long storied rivalry with Ateneo in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament.

“It means everything,” said the 6-foot-7 Cameroonian ahead of the highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s titular showdown that is expected to draw a capacity crowd inside the Mall of Asia Arena.

Mbala certainly knows how crucial the showdown is especially for the Green Archers who are aching to close out their first round campaign on a high note, derail the Blue Eagles’ unbeaten start and regain the aura of invincibility after suffering a stunning loss to University of the Philippines three weeks ago.

“We’re not going out there to be friends or anything you know what’s at stake. It’s still blue against green. No matter what will happen when we step on the court, we’re just gonna bring it until the last second. It’s just ‘Blue versus Green’ and it says it all,” he said.

Spitfire guard Aljun Melecio, still recovering his usual strength after a bout with dengue, won’t be around for the third straight time, leaving a big hole on the Green Archers backcourt which will be given a stern test by their Blue Eagles counterparts.

Although the momentum is on their side, Ateneo wingman Thirdy Ravena admitted it won’t be enough to put their guards down against a La Salle side which is armed with a strong weapon in Mbala, who’s good for 33.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.