MANILA, Philippines – Reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala commended the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons after they pulled the rug from under defending champion De La Salle University, 98-87, last Saturday.
The Fighting Maroons used a huge fourth quarter to complete the upset victory, handing the Green Archers their first loss of the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament.
"UP played a very good game, you know," Mbala told reporters after the loss, which marked only the second time that La Salle dropped a game in the UAAP since the Cameroonian star started playing in Season 79.
"Winning and losing is part of life, it's part of being an athlete and playing the game of basketball. Unluckily, we were on the other side. We lost, and UP had a good game, so you have to give it to them," he added.
At the start, it appeared as though La Salle was headed for an impressive win. Mbala had 16 points in the first quarter alone, making four of his five three-point attempts, and the Green Archers built a 27-18 advantage.
However, the Fighting Maroons were able to tighten up their defense on Mbala beyond the arc, and he missed the next three triples that he took. Mbala was still able to score inside the paint and finished with a career-high 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting, but his teammates were unable to match his efficiency.
"They were able to adjust," Mbala said of UP. "They were able to see that I can hit the 3, so they really came up on me and they weren't giving me any space. They made good adjustments on defense. That's what they were able to do."
Unfortunately for the Green Archers, they were unable to make the same adjustments. Paul Desiderio went toe-to-toe with Mbala and finished with 30 points, including six three-pointers. Three other Fighting Maroons reached double-digits, and UP shot over 47% for the game.
Mbala, who was playing in just his second UAAP game since a stint in the Afro Basket, refused to pin the blame on any particular factor, least of all fatigue.
"I won't talk about fatigue," he said. "I'll just say that UP was able to hit their shots."
"They played a really good 1-on-1 game," Mbala explained. "Every time they had the mismatch or an iso (isolation), they were able to convert and make a three-point shot."
"That's how they were able to kill us during the game."
La Salle has an entire week to dissect the loss, as they won't play again until next Saturday against University of Santo Tomas. Mbala said the defeat to UP should only fire up the Green Archers for the rest of the season.
"I'll just tell you guys that we go back to the gym and we'll work hard," he said. "It doesn't feel good to lose, but you have to look at the bright side of losing – it's going to make us work harder and want it more than anyone else."
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