By Jerome Lagunzad
Games Wednesday (Smart-Araneta Coliseum)
2 p.m. – UE vs FEU
4 p.m. –UP vs Ateneo
No punches were thrown nor any punt kicks were delivered last night, but defending champion La Salle still gave archrival Far Eastern University a sound beating.
The Green Archers – despite their sputtering finish – still came away with a 95-90 victory to open their title defense in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament on a high note before a huge crown at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Diminutive guard Aljun Melecio ignited their early onslaught while veterans Kib Montalbo, Ricci Rivero, Andrei Caracut and rookie big man Santi Santillan provided the stability on both ends to help La Salle overcome the absence of reigning league MVP Ben Mbala.
More importantly, the Green Archers barged into the winners’ column and earned some sort of a payback against the Tamaraws following their highly-publicized free-for-all encounter in the Kadayawan Festival Invitational in Davao City nearly three weeks ago.
Melecio, the smallest man on the floor at 5-foot-7, stood tall offensively as he sizzled with a career-high 29 points, 20 of them coming in the first half where the Green Archers led by as many as 23 and left the Tamaraws in complete disarray with their suffocating “Mayhem” defense.
Earlier, Paul Desiderio knocked in a cold-blooded triple from the top of the key with 1.1 seconds left as University of the Philippines outlasted University of Santo Tomas in a frantic finish 74-73.
After missing nine of his first 10 attempts from beyond the arc and the Fighting Maroons down by two points going to the last 5.3 seconds, Desiderio demanded his teammates during the final huddle to give him the leather and he didn’t disappoint, swishing through the go-ahead triple over the outstretched arms of two Growling Tigers defenders.
UP 74 – Desiderio 17, Vito 9, Webb 7, Gomez de Liano Ju 7, Manzo 6, Gomez de Liano Ja 6, Ouattara 4, Lim 4, Prado 4, Dario 4, Lao 4, Romero 2, Harris 0.
UST 73 – Lee 20, Akomo 15, Sta. Ana 11, Soriano 8, Huang 6, Garcia 5, Faundo 4, Arana 2, De Guzman 2, Basibas 0, Caunan 0, Kwawukumey 0, Macasaet 0, Romero 0.
Quarters: 18-19, 42-33, 57-57, 74-73.
LA SALLE 95 – Melecio 29, Caracut 16, Montalbo 12, Tratter 11, Santillan 9, Rivero P 7, Baltazar 4, Go 3, Rivero R 2, Paraiso 2, Capacio 0.
FEU 90 – Dennison 21, Comboy 13, Orizu 12, Tuffin 10, Cani 7, Tolentino 7, Parker 7, Inigo 5, Escoto 5, Trinidad 3, Nunag 0, Ebona 0, Bienes 0.
Quarters: 29-11, 47-32, 73-54, 95-90.