Ateneo had the chance for an automatic Finals berth but failed. Miserably
The fans of the Green Archers have many reasons to cheer about after yesterday's win.
If you will recall what happened last season, the De La Salle Green Archers, then led by Jeron Teng and Ben Mbala had the chance to sweep the elimination round heading into game number 14 which was against none other than the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.
To everyone's surprise, the Blue Eagles, a team nobody else expected to make the Final 4 that season, did the unexpected and handed the Green Archers their first and only loss of Season 79 as both teams went on to face each other in the Finals which was won by the Green Archers.
Yesterday, it was a complete reversal of roles. The Blue Eagles headed into their final game of the elimination round with a 13-0 record.
In fact, the Blue Eagles even held a 12-point lead in the 4th quarter until La Salle Coach Aldin Ayo removed his Ralph Lauren jacket and threw it on the floor in frustrations.
The result: the Green Archers went on a 10-0 run en route to a 79-76 victory over the Blue Eagles which restored a Final 4 platform which will start this coming Saturday to determine who will face who in the Finals.
How did La Salle's spoil the fun for the Blue Eagles in a game that wasn't decided until the final possession? Check the numbers below:
Big Ben with Big Numbers
Let's start with the obvious one. If there's one guy who could lead La Salle to victory as we saw last season, it's the big guy in the middle, the reigning MVP, Ben Mbala.
In yesterday's game against the guys in blue, Mbala scored 13 points in the 2nd quarter alone en route finishing the game with 28 points, 19 rebounds, 6 steals and 6 blocks for another MVP-worthy performance and he was unchallenged for most parts.
In fact, Mbala's defensive presence in the dying seconds of the game prevented Ateneo from taking the lead. Mind you, #23 was hurt during the game but came back and scored crucial points down the stretch.
21 Points from Ricci Rivero
Sure, Ateneo failed to contain Ben Mbala but Ricci Rivero? If anything, Ateneo's equally costly failure to defend Ricci Rivero is another thing that cost them an automatic Finals berth in the first place. The younger Rivero scored 21 points- on an efficient 7 of 13 shooting, to compliment Mbala's 28.
La Salle's Experience Prevailed in the 4th
The Green Archers outscored the Blue Eagles 25-13 in the final quarter alone. Even though they fell behind by as much as 12 points, they kept their composure which enabled them to hold onto the lead.
Overall, it was La Salle's defensive pressure that kept Ateneo from sweeping through the elimination round. They clamped down on defense. They forced Tab Baldwin's boys to take low percentage shots and commit silly turnovers (22).
Sweep or not. We all know that Ateneo and La Salle will meet again in the Finals unless both FEU and Adamson can overcome the twice-to-beat advantages that both Ateneo and La Salle are holding heading into the Final 4.
For Ateneo, absorbing their first loss of the season will help them in the Final 4 as it will motivate them to do better in the semifinal round especially if they want to contend for another championship.
For La Salle, beating Ateneo, again, should not be a big deal for them because what should matter more is the championship. Beating their archrival is only a bonus if anything.