With reigning Ben Mbala struggling, Ricci Rivero and Jollo Go rose to the challenge anew as La Salle hammered out a thrilling 75-73 victory over Far Eastern U Wednesday to regain solo second in UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Sustaining his fiery form, Rivero finished with 20 points and five steals while Go made four triples en route to 14 points as they picked up the slack for Mbala, who shot just 5-of-16 from the field for 18 points.
The win allowed the Archers to break the tie for second with the Adamson Falcons as they improved to 6-2, while dealing the Tamaraws their second straight defeat for a 4-4 record.
FEU’s loss also allowed University of the Philippines to catch up at fourth spot as the Fighting Maroons slipped past University of Santo Tomas, 71-69, earlier.
Jun Manzo split his free throws with seven seconds remaining, before the Maroons watched Marvin Lee’s triple rim out at the buzzer as they escaped with a narrow win just like in the first round when Paul Desiderio nailed a triple as time expired to lift UP.
It was the eighth straight loss for the Tigers, who once again showed plenty of fight in the final period, before falling short.
“Every time we go up against UST, it’s always going to be a classic for us,” said UP coach Bo Perasol, whose team snapped a three-game slide.
“This is just too difficult for us, because we just wanted to get another win after the three losses we had. This is something that can perk us up, make us believe again that we can still do this.”
A surprise starter, Jan Jaboneta went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc to topscore with 12 points for the Maroons, who once again struggled to get baskets in the endgame.
“Just imagine what would have happened if we lost that game,” said Perasol. “It was a close game; it could have been the third close game that we (lost). We’re able to make a stop in that last possession, and we’re just happy about this, all of us.”
Marvin Lee cut UP’s lead to a single point with a triple in transition before Manzo split his free throws, setting the stage for a wild finish. The Maroons took control in the second period, where Manzo and Desiderio joined forces in a 13-2 burst that gave UP a 31-22 lead.
“It was really a struggle,” said Perasol.
Mbala was made to work for his points by Prince Orizu and Barkley Ebonia, but La Salle’s defense also hung tough in a tight fourth period with Andrei Caracut breaking up FEU’s final inbound play with 2.2 seconds remaining.
“They focused on defending Ben (Mbala), but fortunately for us, Jollo was hitting his shots,” said La Salle assistant coach Miggy Solitaria, who has been filling in for Aldin Ayo at post-match press conferences after the loss to University of the Philippines last Sept. 23.
“It was all about doing my role,” said Go, who shot 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. “I’m just grateful for the trust and confidence given to me by my teammates.”
The Archers could have sealed the victory earlier, but Rivero missed a couple of free throws and intentionally missed a second foul shot that failed to hit the rim for a violation, allowing the Tamaraws one last chance of stealing the win.
“We just have to stick to our system,” Solitaria said. “There’s always an impact if we don’t follow the system. Fortunately, in the last few minutes of the game, we found a way (to win).”
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