UAAP: Evan Nelle leads way as La Salle shocks UP to force decider

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2022 04:14 PM | Updated as of May 05 2022 02:05 AM

La Salle's Kurt Lojera dunks the ball against UP in their UAAP Season 84 Final 4 game. UAAP Media.
La Salle's Kurt Lojera dunks the ball against UP in their UAAP Season 84 Final 4 game. UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) De La Salle University is still alive in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament after the Green Archers held on for an 83-80 win against the University of the Philippines, Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Green Archers, seeded third in the Final 4, were in a must-win situation as the Maroons held a twice-to-beat advantage. But they showed no fear of the moment, immediately racing out to a lead after the first quarter before withstanding UP's late flurry.

Evan Nelle played his best game of the season just when La Salle needed it, pouring in a career-best 26 points along with seven assists, six rebounds, and three steals in 30 minutes. Graduating big man Justine Baltazar had 15 points, 18 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks, while Michael Phillips grabbed 15 boards.

With the result, La Salle has forced a do-or-die game on Friday for a spot in the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UP, meanwhile, absorbed a painful defeat just days after their stunning triumph against defending champion Ateneo de Manila University, which ensured that there will be a traditional Final 4 this season.

"I think the boys really played hard today. They played 40 minutes of basketball, we played 40 minutes of solid, disciplined basketball today," said La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren. "That's what I've been asking them to do. It was really a team effort, everybody was on the same page in today's game."

The Green Archers were in control for most of the game, leading by as much as 22 points, 64-44, on a Joaqui Manuel three-pointer with under three minutes to go in the third period. But the Fighting Maroons uncorked 11 straight points to end the quarter, allowing them to get within 11 points, 66-55, entering the final period.

La Salle did enough to fend off UP's charges in the fourth quarter, with Nelle and Baltazar hitting big shots to keep the Green Archers in control. Two free throws by Nelle made it 81-69 with just 2:04 to play.

The game appeared to be all but over after La Salle forced UP's Ricci Rivero into back-to-back misses from three-point range with 70 seconds left. But the Maroons made a late run, trimming the lead to three points, 81-78, with 13 ticks to go off a triple by Gerry Abadiano. 

A split at the line by Nelle made it a four-point game, and La Salle dodged a bullet when Rivero misfired on an open three-pointer in UP's next possession. Nelle again split his charities for an 83-78 score, and Malick Diouf's slam dunk at the buzzer completed the scoring but didn't change the result.

"Sabi ni coach, wala nang bukas 'to eh. Talagang bigay na namin talaga 'yung best [namin]," said Baltazar, who extended his glittering collegiate career by at least one game with their win.

UP got 18 points and 10 rebounds from Diouf, while Rivero finished with 18 points and eight boards, and Zavier Lucero had 17 points and six rebounds. But the Fighting Maroons shot an anemic 28.9% from the field, and gave up 25 second chance points to the Green Archers.

It was their free throw shooting that kept UP in the hunt, as they made 26 of their 30 attempts at the line. The Fighting Maroons were without CJ Cansino, who sustained a bone bruise in their win against the Blue Eagles.

The Scores:

LA SALLE 83 -- Nelle 26, Baltazar 15, Lojera 11, M. Phillips 7, Austria 7, Winston 7, Nwankwo 4, Nonoy 3, Manuel 3, B. Phillips 0.

UP 80 -- Diouf 18, Rivero 18, Lucero 17, Tamayo 8, Abadiano 7, Cagulangan 6, Spencer 3, Alarcon 3, Ramos 0, Fortea 0, Webb 0, Lina 0.

Quarters: 24-16, 48-37, 66-55, 83-80.