Another comeback sends Green Archers back to UAAP Finals

For the second straight game, the DLSU Green Archers leaned on a strong showing in the fourth period to foil an upset-minded Adamson Falcons squad in their Final Four matchup, 82-75, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. After going 12-2 in the elimination round, the win is another step towards La Salle’s plans of back-to-back UAAP titles.

Facing another 54-63 deficit entering the final quarter a week after rallying to beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles, La Salle held Adamson scoreless during the first 5:17 of the fourth while scoring 14 straight points to grab the lead, 68-63. A long distance conversion by Jollo Go finally got DLSU’s outside shooting going during the rally after the Archers went 0/15 during the first three periods.

The defending champions’ perimeter defense also cranked up during the crucial moments of the game, allowing only a couple of three-point baskets after the Falcons went 9/23 before the fourth period. The strong 28-12 quarter followed up last week’s great 79-76 comeback against a sweep-minded Ateneo where the Taft-based squad also outscored this year’s top seed, 25-13.

A strong-willed, Franz Pumaren-coached squad refused to lay down as back-to-back conversions by Kristian Bernardo cut La Salle’s five point lead to just one, 68-67, with 4:15 to play. A Ben Mbala and-one with 0.1 left on the shot clock was quickly answered with a three-pointer by Adamson’s Rob Mangalang before Santillan’s trey and Ricci Rivero’s leak-out jam finally put the nail on the Falcon’s Season 80 campaign.

After coughing up 15 turnovers in the first half, La Salle took better care of the ball and committed only seven errors after the break. Nine different players scored in the final 10 minutes for the Archers led by the seven of a recovering Aljun Melecio.

As bad as the Green Archers played in the first 10 minutes – scoring only four field goals, committing turnovers, and not connecting from the three-point area – La Salle only trailed 11-21 and had a better showing in the second quarter. Using a tall line-up of Mbala, Abu Tratter, and sophomore Justine Baltazar enabled the defending champions to control the paint and outscore the Falcons 22-18 in the second period.

In a battle of the La Salle frontline against Adamson’s outside snipping, the Falcons hit six of 15 shots from beyond the arc and forced 15 first half turnovers to lead 39-33 at intermission. Rivero, part of this season’s Mythical Five, provided two spectacular highlights in the second frame: a chasedown block on Falcon Sean Manganti’s fast break attempt and a euro-step layup at the 1:04 mark to inch DLSU closer, 33-36.

Mbala, the newly minted UAAP Season 80 MVP, battered the Adamson frontline to near-submission with his 27 points, 14 rebounds, and two steals. Bernardo and import Papi Sarr encountered foul trouble in keeping up with Big Ben, allowing La Salle to go 26/39 (66.67%) from the charity line compared to just 2/5 from AdU.

Santillan played his usual yeoman’s role, coming up with 15 points, eight rebounds, and one assist. Ricci, the third main cog in Ayo’s Mayhem system came up with 14 points, six rebounds, and six assists.

The men’s basketball finals may start as early as next Saturday, Nov. 25 (Mall of Asia Arena) or as late as Nov. 29 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Notes: La Salle didn’t need another dose of jacket-throwing by coach Aldin Ayo to spark or complete the another fourth quarter comeback. Speaking of clothing and accessories, Mbala however sported a white headband that seemed to make the two-time UAAP MVP look meaner, if not more intimidating.

DLSU 82 – Mbala 27, Santillan 15, Ri. Rivero 14, Melecio 7, Montalbo 5, Caracut 4, Tratter 3, Go 3, Ra. Rivero 2, Baltazar 2, Paraiso 0.

Adamson 75 – Ahanmisi 17, Manalang 16, Hill 10, Lojera 7, Sarr 6, Bernardo 6, Manangti 5, Espeleta 4, Pinggoy 2, Zaldivar 2, Ochea 0