UNDER intense scrutiny with a powerhouse roster, coach Aldin Ayo responded by bringing La Salle to the throne.
After missing the Final Four last season, the Green Archers are back on top, annexing their ninth championship with a 79-72 victory over bitter rival Ateneo in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last night .
La Salle swept the best-of-three series, 2-0, as the ‘mayhem’ which Ayo instilled for the team reigned supreme.
“Grabe ang pressure, ang galing ng mga coaches. Mabuti na lang at magagaling ang mga players,” said Ayo.
“We just embraced the pressure all-season long,” he added.
One of emerging young coaches in the collegiate basketball scene, Ayo followed up his success with Letran last season in improbable fashion.
While he won the crown for the Knights as heavy underdogs, Ayo added his trophy box by giving the title back to the Archers, as they lived up to their lofty billing as consensus favorites.
“It feels good, but...hindi ko iniisip yun. Ang iniisip ko lang ay maibalik talaga ang championship dito sa La Salle,” said Ayo.
In his final game for the Archers, Finals MVP Jeron Teng came through with 28 points while season MVP Ben Mbala tallied his 17th double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Earlier, National University completed a third straight perfect season in the women's division with a 96-72 dismantling of La Salle.
Mbala scored a lay-up from a Teng assist to give the Archers a 75-69 lead at the 1:13 mark and delivered the game's biggest defensive stop in the next play that broke the Eagles' backs.
Despite losing four players led by Teng to graduation, La Salle looks formidable next season with Mbala leading the ‘mayhem.’
“Mas magulo kami next year,” said Ayo.
The Archers finished the season with a 16-1 card, their lone loss came from the hands of the Eagles late in the elimination round.
Despite the Finals loss, Ateneo has overachieved as it made good strides under coach Tab Baldwin, as it dethroned Far Eastern University in the Final Four.
Mike Nieto had 18 points while Adrian Wong and Raffy Verano added 10 points for the Eagles.
Finals MVP Gemma Miranda had 25 points and 13 rebounds while back-to-back Season MVP Afril Bernardino added 18 points, nine assists, six boards and three steals as the Bulldogs made short that there will be no repeat of last Wednesday’s narrow 77-74 victory that threatened the league's current longest winning run in any sport.
“I just told the girls to take care of the ball and make some adjustments. Siguro yung defense namin, maganda. If we play good defense, our offense will just come easy for us. Gemma and Afril played good today,” said NU coach Patrick Aquino.
The win was also some sort of send off for Bernardino and Miranda, who have already completed their playing eligibility.
Khate Castillo finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists while Jhoana Arciga and Snow Peñaranda added 14 and 13 points for the Lady Archers.
The success of the Lady Bulldogs, who have won 48 straight games dating back from the 2014 season, bodes well not in the UAAP but in women's basketball in the country overall.
“I'm happy for women's basketball which is gaining so much attention. Masaya ako sa mga girls and sa future ng sport," said Aquino, who also handles the Perlas Pilipinas squad that has recently elevated to Level 1 in FIBA Asia basketball.
First game (W)
NU (96)--Miranda 25, Bernardino 18, Animam 16, Nabalan 15, Camelo 9, Itesi 8, Del Carmen 3, Layug 2, Ceno 0, Harada 0.
La Salle (72) - Castillo 15, Arciga 14, Peñaranda 13, Claro 9, Nunez 7, Vergara 7, Gonzales 4, Dagdagan 3, Javier 0, Revillosa 0, Vela 0.
Quarterscores: 26-15, 52-36, 78-47, 96-52
Second game (M)
La Salle (79) -- Teng 28, Mbala 18, Montalbo 9, Melecio 7, Caracut 5, Perkins 4, Torres 3, Tratter 2, Rivero 2, Sargent 1.
Ateneo (72) -- Mi. Nieto 18, Verano 10, Wong 10, Asistio 9, Go 8, Ikeh 6, Ma. Nieto 4, Ravena 3, Black 2, Tolentino 2, Babilonia 0, Porter 0.
Quarterscores: 22-16, 45-35, 59-52, 79-72