Late mistake dooms La Salle in finals rematch vs Ateneo

Sometimes the game of basketball comes down to one play. Unfortunately for the defending champions of the UAAP, they were on the unlucky end of such an instance.

Facing the team they beat in last year’s UAAP finals for the first time this season, the DLSU Green Archers fell to their rivals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 76-75, on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

DLSU rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half and was locked in a close battle against Ateneo in the final period. After going up by one following a pair of clutch free throws by Ben Mbala, La Salle was unsuccessful in inbounding the basketball, giving the Blue Eagles the opportunity to steal the match.

The loss dropped La Salle’s record to 5-2 as the first round comes to a close, second behind the 7-0 Blue Eagles in the standings.

Ben Mbala, who had scored below 30 points only once this season entering the game, finished with season-low 18 points and 13 rebounds. Ricci Rivero led the Archers with 19 points.

After Mbala hit free throws that put DLSU ahead 75-74, the Archers got stops and had the ball back after a time-out with 7.8 seconds to go. But on the inbound play, a failure in execution between Kib Montalbo and Andrei Caracut allowed Ateneo’s Mike Nieto to steal the ball.

Nieto was then fouled on the break and hit both free throws. On the next play, Mbala and Montalbo were unable to convert game-winning opportunities.

DLSU turned the ball over 20 times and shot only 5-of-13 from the foul stripe in a one-point loss. Nieto had 16 points to lead the Eagles, who got off to a quick start thanks to six three-pointers in the first period.

The Archers will aim to bounce back on Wednesday when they take on FEU.