MANILA, Philippines – De La Salle University's shock loss to University of the Philippines helped remind the defending UAAP champions that though they have been tagged as the favorites to win Season 80, they are still "a team like everyone else."
This, according to reigning MVP Ben Mbala, who saw a 34-point, 12-rebound performance go down the drain in their 98-87 loss to the Fighting Maroons last week.
"It was a wake-up call," Mbala said of their defeat. "Coming off last season, being really dominant and being champions, people say we're the team to beat and all that."
"No," he emphatically added. "We're just a team like everyone else."
"UP played well, and they just reminded us that we're just a team like everyone else," he also said.
The Green Archers quickly bounced back from that unexpected defeat, crushing University of Santo Tomas 115-86 on Saturday. Mbala had 29 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocked shots in the comfortable victory.
Afterward, he explained that La Salle was able to execute and defend against the Growling Tigers in a way that they were unable to against the Fighting Maroons.
"We were able to execute our mayhem defense like we always do, and we were able to make them commit a lot of turnovers that we were able to convert into easy fastbreak points," said the La Salle center.
"The last game, we were not able to play one-on-one defense, and we were not able to execute. Today, we were able to do that, and things went well," he added.
The big win against UST hiked La Salle's record to 4-1, keeping them within striking distance of archrival Ateneo (6-0). The Green Archers still have to hurdle University of the East on Wednesday ahead of their highly anticipated meeting against the Blue Eagles on October 8.
With the first round of Season 80 wrapping up soon, Mbala feels that the Green Archers still have plenty of work to do in their title defense.
"We have to find a way to get back on the level that we are last year, and if ever, we have to increase and play better than last year," he said.
"It's still the first round, and there are still a lot of adjustments that we have to do. We still have to work on our game," he added.
But the Cameroonian big man has no doubts that the Green Archers will be able to reach that championship level soon, with their loss to UP serving as the spark that motivated them to work even harder.
"I feel like we'll be able to get there sooner or later," said Mbala. "Like I always say, there's always room for improvement."
"As a team, we played well, and we want to keep working to be able to reach that level," he added.
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