MANILA, Philippines – Reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala will make his highly anticipated return as De La Salle University takes on Adamson University in the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Mbala missed the defending champions' first two games of the season because of his stint in the 2017 Afro Basket for Cameroon, where he helped his team advance to the quarterfinals. "Big Ben" averaged 21.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in the tournament, and had a 32-point, 10-rebound performance against Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
"It was a great learning experience, especially getting to play against bigger and mature players," said Mbala, who returned to the Philippines late Sunday evening.
Mbala's return should make an already powerful La Salle team even more potent. Despite playing without their MVP, the Green Archers won their first two games of the season, including a highly entertaining 115-109 shootout against National University (NU) on Saturday.
La Salle coach Aldin Ayo expects Mbala to integrate seamlessly with his teammates, even as he mulls the possibility of playing his big man in a different position.
"We're on this level, but when Ben arrives, aangat na lang kami na kasama siya," Ayo said. "Wala na kaming gagawin masyadong adjustments, because hindi kami nag-adjust talaga doon sa pagkawala niya. Gusto namin na pagbalik niya, diretso kaagad. Andar kaagad."
"When Ben comes in, he can play the 5, 4, 3, or he can even play the 2 depende sa scheme," he added. "We'll find a way na ipasok si Ben, kung paano siya mailalagay sa spot na magiging komportable siya."
La Salle takes on an Adamson (1-1) team that is brimming with confidence following an 88-81 win over University of Santo Tomas (UST), also last Saturday. A win by the Green Archers will put them in a tie for first place along with archrival Ateneo de Manila University.
Game time is at 4 p.m.
In the first game of the double-header, the NU Bulldogs (1-1) try will to bounce back against a still winless UST squad (0-2) at 2:00 p.m.
NU coach Jamike Jarin is not underestimating the Growling Tigers despite their record, especially with big man Steve Akomo living up to the hype.
"They're good," said Jarin of UST. "They've got Akomo, they've got a good rebounder in (Jeepy) Faundo, and they've got a leader in Marvin Lee. It's going to be really interesting."
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