By Jerome Lagunzad
(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. — UST vs FEU
4 p.m. — La Salle vs UP
Although he’s blessed to have high-scoring Paul Desiderio and several gunners in their fold, University of the Philippines coach Bo Perasol believes that Mali center Ibrahim Ouattara still holds the key if the Fighting Maroons can make it to the next level.
Whether the 6-foot-10 Ouattara clearly has what it takes to succeed will be further known today when he faces his toughest test yet in the mold of La Salle’s do-it-all import Ben Mbala in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Tip off is at 4 o’clock, with Ouattara raring to pick up from he left off after dishing out his finest performance yet with 14 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in the course of UP’s 84-71 victory over University of the East over the weekend.
Duplicating – much less surpassing – that kind of dominant play should be a daunting task for Ouattara since he will be going up against the 6-foot-7 Mbala, the reigning league MVP who made an auspicious comeback with a career-best 32 points in La Salle’s 85-73 triumph over Adamson last Wednesday.
“What’s important for us is Ibrahim will continue to be the presence in the lane. He’s going to be our last line of defense. He’s our best rebounder.” said Perasol.
“‘Yung points, bonus na lang ‘yun. We have lots of scorers as you can see. But if we can dump the ball to him anytime and I think we will be in a good position if he can prove that during game time.”
Unlike Ouattara, Mbala should have little trouble asserting his will anew as La Salle, weary and all, intends to rack up its fourth straight victory and break free from a tie with archrival Ateneo atop the eight-team field.
“Hopefully matapos na kasi hell week ito. This will be our third game in a span of seven days,” admitted Green Archers coach Aldin Ayo. “Lahat ng mga teams na makakalaban namin, puro pa contenders.”
Battling in the opener set at 2 o’clock are struggling teams, host Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas.
The Tamaraws, fresh from a six-day break, are looking to bounce back from a 94-82 setback dealt by the Blue Eagles while the Growling Tigers try to claim an elusive victory on their fourth try.
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