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La Salle’s Big Ben joins UAAP greats

By Jerome Lagunzad

Dominant all season long, La Salle center Ben Mbala clinched a second straight Most Valuable Player award in runaway fashion, joining an illustrious cast of certified UAAP superstars.

Despite missing their first two matches, the 6-foot-7 Mbala still amassed a total of 96.58 statistical points built around a league-leading 26.0 points on top of 13.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.3 assists and as many steals.

La Salle's Ben Mbala (MB photo | Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

La Salle’s Ben Mbala (MB photo | Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

The Cameroonian big man became the first player in the country’s most prestigious collegiate league to achieve the feat since former Ateneo ace guard Kiefer Ravena did the trick in 2014 and 2015.

Mbala, 22, also joined several Green Archers big men who also made such impressive accomplishment like Don Allado (1998 and 1999), Mark Telan (1996 and 1997) and Jun Limpot (1989 and 1990).

Other back-to-back MVP winners in recent memory are Ateneo’s Rich Alvarez (2000 and 2001), Far Eastern University’s Arwind Santos (2004 and 2005) and National University’s Ray Parks (2011 and 2012).

Finishing a distant second was Ravena’s younger brother Thirdy who accounted for 66.50 SPs, courtesy of his solid averages of 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.0 steal, leading the Blue Eagles’ near flawless performance in the eliminations and into the top spot in the Final Four round.

NU co-skipper J-Jay Alejandro came in at third overall 63.85 SPs built around his all-around showing of 17.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, a league-best 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game in his final tour of duty with the Bulldogs.

University of the East star Alvin Pasaol, who exploded for 49 points against La Salle in one of the finest offensive performances in league history, finished at fourth with 63.42 SPs courtesy of his 20.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.6 assists output per game, emerging as the lone bright spot for the struggling Red Warriors.

Since an existing league rule states that only one foreign student-athlete can join the Mythical Team, Mbala’s fellow Green Archer, wingman Ricci Rivero, made it to the elite group this year despite finishing eighth overall with 56.28 SPs, thanks to his resurgence in the second round.

Adamson’s Cameroon center Papi Sarr was at sixth with 63.15 SPs followed by NU’s Senegalese slotman Issa Gaye with 57.57 SPs and University of Santo Tomas’ Cameroon big man Steve Akomo with 56.76 SPs.

In the distaff side, NU center Jack Animam earned herself a fitting reward for her sustained dominance by bagging her first MVP title.

The 6-foot-4 Animam, the tourney’s best rebounder and shotblocker, collected 77.28SPs that proved enough to hold off UE’s Love Sto. Domingo who finished at a close second with 75.64SPs.