2-time MVP Ben Mala comes up with big numbers
Ben Mbala recovered from his worst career game to help La Salle force a Game 3.
Coming into this best-of-three Finals series, the De La Salle Green Archers are tagged as the heavy favorites to win the championship anew owing to the fact that they have the two-time MVP Ben Mbala and an equally impressive sophomore in Ricci Rivero leading the team plus a surging Aljun Melecio. And, the Archers handed the top-seeded Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles their only loss in the 14-game elimination round which subsequently denied the Eagles an outright slot in the Finals.
But came along Game 1. The Blue Eagles surprised everyone else when they limited La Salle's scoring machine, Ben Mbala, to a career-worst 8 points on 3 for 7 shooting. And Ateneo came away with a 76-70 win to move a win away from the championship.
In Game 2, everyone was expecting La Salle to fight back right from the opening tip but, it was still Ateneo who went up by as high as 21 points. However, that was the last of it as the defense of the Green and White finally started to click in during the second quarter which allowed La Salle to come within 9 points at the half- en route to taking Game 2 on a 92-83 win over the Eagles which set-up a winner-take-all match on Sunday.
How did it happen? Below are the numbers:
The Mbala Effect. Plus More
As mentioned above, Ben Mbala was hardly a factor during the series' opener but in the second game, the two-time MVP made sure that his presence was felt on both sides of the court as he led La Salle with 20 points, 16 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks. However, Mbala wasn't alone either. Ricci Rivero, despite having 4 fouls before halftime, scored 18 points while the dynamic duo of Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut combined for 25 points.
Third Quarter Defense
La Salle gave up 32 points in the first quarter alone when they allowed Ateneo to build that big lead. Defense enabled the Green Archers to cut down the lead to 9 points at the half and from there, it was all La Salle. Aldin Ayo's boys played stingy defense in the 3rd quarter which limited Ateneo to only 8 points on a horrible 3 for 17 shooting. La Salle on the other had 26 points in that 3rd quarter- making 9 of their 14 attempts.
Ateneo's Ice-Cold Shooting from 3
Ateneo has been known as a team who likes to shoot threes. In the first half of Game 2, the Blue Eagles went 6 for 12 from the three-point line- 3 from Anton Asistio in the first quarter alone, things went south the rest of the way for the Blue and White as they only converted one of their ELEVEN attempts from rainbow country during the entire second half. Overall, La Salle's defense limited Ateneo to only 34% field goal shooting.
Simply put it this way: Ateneo needs to learn how to hold onto that big lead if they are to win Game 3. For La Salle, on the other hand, they need to find a way to clamp down on D during the early goings of the game because they cannot rely on Ben Mbala to get them to the promised land.
Game 3 is on Sunday. Who will win? This basketball pundit on wheels says it's gonna be La Salle. Again. Why? Unless Tab Baldwin has something in mind to contain the MVP, Mbala will be unstoppable. As he was in Game 2.