Tempo - - Front Page - By JEROME LAGUNZAD ALDIN Ayo

Game Satur­day (Smart-Araneta Coli­seum) 4 p.m. – La Salle vs Adam­son (Fi­nal Four, Green Archers with 2x-to-beat edge) Game Sun­day (Smart-Araneta Coli­seum) 4 p.m. – Ate­neo vs FEU (Fi­nal Four, Blue Ea­gles with 2x-to-beat edge)

In hind­sight, La Salle coach Aldin Ayo thinks the Green Archers could have an easier path to the UAAP bas­ket­ball fi­nals if they fell prey to archri­val Ate­neo last Sun­day.

That could have al­lowed the Blue Ea­gles to earn an out­right fi­nals seat and set up a steplad­der semi­fi­nal in­stead of the Fi­nal Four round.

If that what hap­pened, de­fend­ing cham­pion La Salle, ranked sec­ond over­all, will re­tain its twice-to­beat ad­van­tage against the win­ner of a knock­out show­down be­tween No. 3 Adam­son and No. 4 host Far East­ern Univer­sity which was ini­tially pen­ciled today.

“Ac­tu­ally, it will be easy for us if we lost,” said Ayo, con­fi­dent that the Green Archers will have enough time to lick their wounds, pick up the pieces and get them­selves all fired-up ei­ther against the Soar­ing Fal­cons and the Ta­ma­raws this week­end.

How­ever, Ayo knows that there’s a lot at stake, more than a vic­tory, es­pe­cially when La Salle rekin­dles its sto­ried ri­valry with Ate­neo.

“Since it’s La Salle and Ate­neo, we’re not go­ing to back down, we’re not go­ing to hold back. We’re just go­ing to com­pete,” he said.

That’s ex­actly what the Green Archers did when they mounted a strong fight­back from a 12-point deficit early in the fi­nal pe­riod and turned things around in the last 2:20 of play be­hind a telling 10-tonoth­ing windup that left the Blue Ea­gles stunned.

The come-from-be­hind vic­tory en­abled La Salle to com­plete its seven-game sweep of the sec­ond round and earn an­other proof that it is re­gain­ing its deadly form of old feared by many, in­clud­ing Ate­neo.

“I think we’re in a very good spot be­cause we’re peak­ing on the right time,” said Ayo. “And the play­ers have been very, very re­spon­si­ble in terms of their com­mit­ment to our goal.”

Fore­most among them is reign­ing back-to-back league MVP Ben Mbala, who dished out a mon­ster per­for­mance of 28 points, 19 re­bounds, six steals and as many blocks, prac­ti­cally do­ing a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing like what is ex­pected from him.

Shifty guard Ricci Rivero, who made it to the Myth­i­cal Team for the first time, came up big down the stretch where he fired 12 of his 21 points while vet­eran guard Kib Mon­talbo bounced back from a for­get­table show­ing the last time out by hit­ting the goa­head floater with 40.3 sec­onds to play.

Their com­bined ex­ploits, cou­pled with their col­lec­tive poise un­der im­mense pres­sure put on by the erst­while un­flap­pable Blue Ea­gles, were clearly a sight to be­hold for Ayo af­ter en­dur­ing a rough-and-tum­ble ride in the first round.

“There were lots of dis­trac­tions in the first round. But we were able to over­come them, and we were able to fo­cus when the sec­ond round them. It’s just be­ing fo­cused and be­ing com­mit­ted to the ob­jec­tive, which is to win the cham­pi­onship,” he said.

Ayo also did his part to fire up the Green Archers af­ter he threw his black jacket in sheer frus­tra­tion as they stared at a 69-76 deficit fol­low­ing a wild se­quence that ended with Blue Ea­gles for­ward Vince To­lentino scor­ing a lay-up with 2:23 to play.

(Rio Delu­vio)

LA Salle’s Ricci Rivero con­tin­ues to daz­zle UAAP fans with his won­drous moves.

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