MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) Justine Baltazar took charge down the stretch to help De La Salle University claim a crucial 65-59 triumph over University of the East (UE) in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament, Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Green Archers earned a measure of revenge against the Red Warriors, who had pulled off an 89-88 upset against them in the first round, thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Rey Suerte.
In the process, La Salle improved to 5-5, good for joint third in the league standings along with Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas.
Baltazar, a member of the Mythical Team last season, scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter -- eight of which came in a scintillating stretch that gave La Salle the lead for good. The big man from Pampanga added 12 rebounds and 3 assists in nearly 38 minutes of playing time, despite dealing with a fever earlier in the week.
"It was tough for us," said La Salle coach Gian Nazario, who revealed that 7 of their players, including Baltazar, got sick after their game against Ateneo de Manila University last Sunday.
"We weren't really sure what kind of team we'd have today. We weren't sure if they could push through the fatigue," he admitted. "But we're happy that we're able to pull this one out. We really needed this win."
Much like their first-round encounter, it was a tight ballgame as the Red Warriors kept in step with La Salle all the way. A scoring flurry from veteran point guard Philip Manalang gave UE a 46-42 lead entering the fourth period, and his three-pointer with 6:44 left made it 52-49 in favor of the Red Warriors.
Baltazar took over from there, scoring 6 consecutive points to push La Salle ahead, before Jamie Malonzo's bucket made it 57-52 for the Green Archers with under four minutes to go.
The Red Warriors trimmed the deficit to one point, 58-57, with 1:42 left after Suerte assisted on a lay-up for Alex Diakhite. But Malonzo drilled a three-pointer on the other end, and after Diakhite scored once more from close range, Encho Serrano responded with a lay-up of his own to keep UE at bay.
Fittingly, it was Baltazar who iced the game with a pair of charities.
"We needed this win," stressed La Salle's active consultant, Jermaine Byrd. "If we wanna get to our goals of reaching the Final 4, every game for us is a playoff game."
Malonzo and Serrano each scored 12 points, while Brandon Bates missed a double-double with 9 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 2:54 left.
Suerte, the hero in their round 1 meeting, was limited to 17 points. Manalang finished with 14 points, while Diakhite had 11 points and 20 rebounds.
The Red Warriors absorbed their third straight defeat, dropping to 3-8 in the tournament.
LA SALLE 65 - Baltazar 23, Malonzo 12, Serrano 12, Bates 9, Melecio 4, Manuel 3, Caracut 2, Cagulangan 0, Cu 0, Lim 0
UE 59 - Suerte 17, Manalang 14, Diakhite 11, Conner 9, Mendoza 7, Apacible 1, Antiporda 0, Beltran 0, Camacho 0, Cruz 0, Pagsanjan 0, Tolentino 0
Quarter scores: 14-13, 26-28, 42-46, 65-59
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