After “Bad Win”, It’s Adjustment Time for La Salle with Ben back

The main storyline for yesterday’s match against the Adamson Soaring Falcons was how reigning UAAP MVP Ben Mbala and the rest of the team would adjust to each other after the former missed DLSU’s first two wins due to his FIBA Afrobasket duties with Cameroon. With Ben almost tallying a triple-double, a UAAP career-high 32 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks showed that La Salle’s main anchor really has gotten better from last season.

By halftime, Ben already had 21 points from a variety of strong moves to the basket and a pair of three-pointers. Nothing could go wrong for the defending UAAP champions as they cruised to a 36-12 lead at the end of the first 10 minutes and maintained their margin to 22 points, 55-33, at intermission.

Still leading by a comfortable 63-43 lead at the 4:44 mark of the third, things began to get interesting as Adamson’s offense suddenly clicked while DLSU committed bad play after bad play. An 18-5 run capped by sophomore Jerrick Ahanmisi’s three-pointer trimmed La Salle’s lead to only 68-61 at the later stages of the third period.

The Green Archers would continue their uninspired play in the final frame, allowing the Soaring Falcons to stay within striking distance. Naturally, DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo could call no. 23’s number when the team needed him most. A 9-5 stretch that started with a thunderous Mbala jam at the 7:11 mark and ended with a runaway fast break conversion plus a foul gave La Salle some breathing space, 79-68.

“That was a bad win. We started strong but down the stretch we committed lots of mistakes. Actually tinitignan ko kung paano mag-react yung mga locals pagdating ni Ben. Ang naging problema talaga namin (was) execution. The players thought that after the first half, tapos na yung laro. Kaya noong third and fourth quarters, lumabas yung pagiging bata ng team namin. Yung mga immaturity na tendency na kapag lamang na, nagkakanya-kanya.” said Ayo.

Going 11/16 from the field, including 2/4 from beyond the arc, Mbala stated that it was just a matter of believing in himself to shoot and connect from long range: “Talking about my 3’s, I’d say that I didn’t start working on it when I left, I was already working on it since the pre-season, I feel like I just needed the confidence to be able to take them and make them. I was lucky enough that I have that Afrobasket to play as a 3/4 and have the green light to be able to take those shots.”

Rookie Santi Santillan was the only other Green Archer to finish in double-digits, scoring
10 points and hauling seven rebounds and two assists. With Ben getting the lion’s share of minutes at the front court and plays called, sacrifices had to be made. Abu Tratter produced nine points and two rebounds in just 14:30 of action while Aljun Melecio was limited to two points after scoring a combined 49 during the previous two games.

Ricci Rivero, the top scorer during last game’s win against NU with 21 points, was held to six points but got his bearing on the other end by grabbing 13 rebounds. It’s these types of efforts that we want to see in Ricci; a lockdown defender who will take the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best wing players while also helping to protect the rim and clean the glass.

The Lasallian community hopes that Ricci, as well as the guard rotation of team captain Kib Montalbo, Andrei Caracut, and Melecio can lock down UP’s star guard Paul Desiderio during their game on Saturday, also at the Mall of Asia Arena. The offense may not always be in sync but the Mayhem defensive effort should be a constant for the whole 40-minute game.

Given the short turnaround time of two days to prepare against UP head coach Bo Perasol and his 2-1 squad, expect the team to continue to lean on Mbala before eventually figuring things out when a longer break affords them. Surviving and trying to post a perfect 3-0 record during “hell week”, a seven-day stretch where the defending champions match-up against tough contenders in NU, Adamson, and UP will be the utmost priority right now.

“It’s just a matter of putting things together and working on (them). The good thing is Ben is already here, we’re already complete, and we can start moving forward. We can start working on our team chemistry and working on our team na sana kapag napunta sa magandang situation, mag-peak kami,” added Ayo.

Things might be subtraction by addition right now, but the rest of the league shouldn’t hedge on that for the long term. Expect a more dangerous and balanced Green Archers team moving forward. Mbala added: “It’s still the 3rd game of the season and we still have time to work on our mistakes and find a way to improve. (Try) not (to) commit it during the second (round) games.”

The DLSU Green Archers next face the UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday, September 23 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Animo La Salle!