MANILA, Philippines – Ben Mbala was superb in his return to De La Salle University, but the rest of the Green Archers were unable to perform at their usual level in their UAAP Season 80 game against Adamson University on Wednesday.
"Big Ben," the reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player, exploded for a career-high 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting, even showing off his deft touch by making two of four three-pointers. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and had four blocked shots.
He did commit eight of the Green Archers' 26 turnovers in the game, but other than that, Mbala was simply dominant – he finished through contact, knocked down jumpers and free throws, and in the fourth period, he spun into the lane for a two-handed jam that punctuated La Salle's 85-73 victory.
"As expected," was how La Salle coach Aldin Ayo described his prized center's performance.
But Ayo was not as complimentary of the rest of the La Salle squad, as the defending champions saw a 24-point lead steadily dwindle against the Soaring Falcons' aggressive trap.
"That was a bad win," Ayo said bluntly. "We started strong, but down the stretch, we committed lots of mistakes. Actually, I was expecting it, kasi tinitingnan ko kung paano magre-react 'yung mga locals pagdating ni Ben."
"Pero hindi naman talaga nakatuon doon eh," he added. "Ang naging problema namin is 'yung execution. The players thought that after the first half, tapos na 'yung laro."
Ayo believes that in the second half, the Green Archers' collective youth and immaturity came to the forefront, especially as they were nursing such a big lead.
"Nagka-kanya-kanya," said the coach.
Their woes had nothing to do with integrating Mbala back in the fold, said Ayo, who also shrugged off the notion that their offense became "Ben-centric" against the Soaring Falcons.
"The only problem is we did not execute, especially in the second half. It's not about Ben. It's about the players who did not stick to the game plan," he explained.
The rest of the La Salle players struggled mightily, making only 19 of their 48 field goals for a total of 53 points.
Leonard Santillan was the only other Green Archer in double-digits, with 10 points. Even team captain Kib Montalbo struggled, with only five points and five turnovers. Reigning Rookie of the Year Aljun Melecio, who averaged 24.5 points in their two games sans Mbala, only had two points this time around and made only one of seven field goals.
"Naramdaman namin lahat 'yun," Melecio said when asked about their "bad win." "Pero ganoon talaga – lesson learned para sa amin. Buti nangyari 'to early season, para maagapan agad."
Mbala himself chose to stick to the positives. "It's the third game of the season," said the La Salle star. "We still have a lot of time to work on our mistakes and find a way to improve and not commit those during the succeeding games."
Despite his dissatisfaction with his team's performance, Ayo still commended them for their effort. He was especially happy at how the Green Archers took responsibility whenever they made mistakes.
"That was a good start, kasi unang-una, 'pag nagkakamali, dapat nalaman mo na nagkamali. Alam naman ng mga bata na may mga maling nagawa," Ayo said. "We still have to work on that."
"The good thing is Ben is already here, and we're already complete," he also said. "We can start moving forward, we can start working on our team chemistry, and working on our team."
"Sana, doon sa mga importanteng sitwasyon, mag-peak kami."
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