Unheralded Go plays Ateneo hero to the hilt
It was only fitting that the backup center who kept Ateneo alive would give the Eagles their 10th title in Season 80 of the UAAP senior basketball championship yesterday.
Isaac Go, the 6-foot-7 reliever for Ateneo center Chiz Ikeh, delivered a triple with 24.7 seconds to stifle a go-for-broke rally by the defending champion La Salle Archers and sparked the Eagles to an 88-86 victory in their Game 3 showdown at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The trey, the 10th for the Eagles in the game which they again dominated, gave Ateneo an 85-80 lead that finally settled the issue after the Archers rallied to within two at 80-82 from 73-82 with barely three minutes left.
Go had only scored four points, all in the first half, before hitting the most important basket of the game to reprise his heroic role when he rescued the Eagles from impending elimination against the Far Eastern U Tamaraws in their Final Four showdown. The Eagles trailed 72-75 with 14 seconds left before Go hit another triple with eight ticks to go to send the game into overtime which Ateneo later won, 88-84, to advance in the finals against the Archers.
The victory was the ninth overall for the Eagles and their first since 2012 when they scored a fifth straight crown under coach Norman Black. It was sweeter this time as they erased the stigma of blowing a 21-point lead in their first chance to dethrone the Archers last Wednesday as La Salle forced a rubber match with an 83-72 win behind Ben Mbala.
Mbala, held to a career-low eight points as Ateneo won the title series opener, 76-70, redeemed himself in MVP fashion in Game 2 minutes after being honored as the league’s top player for the second straight year. The national player of Cameroon scattered 20 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots to force yesterday’s decider.
Not only did Mbala recall his huge numbers of 28 points, 19 boards, six steals and the same number of blocks when the Archers spoiled the Eagles’ bid for a 14-game sweep of the eliminations, 79-76, last Nov. 12. The teammates who ‘went missing’ with him in Game 1 also resurfaced with Ricci Rivero, Andrei Caracut and Kib Montalbo backing him up with a combined 40 points while Aljun Melecio added 13 after a game-high 24 the last time out.
With Anton Asistio firing three of five Ateneo triples in the first quarter, the Eagles soared to a 32-13 lead after the first quarter then increased the advantage to 45-24 before the Archers fought back. Mbala and Melecio joined hands to whittle the lead to 51-42 at halftime then La Salle, looking doomed at the start, completely turned the game around in just a quarter with a sizzling 26-8 run in the third period.
With Rivero waxing hot despite four fouls, the Archers swept on top at 68-59 and had the game all but wrapped up with an 85-72 advantage with barely three minutes left.
Eagles’ top guard Thirdy Ravena, who set up Go for the decisive trey, was later named Finals MVP.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, who avenged the two-game sweep he absorbed from counterpart Aldin Ayo in the title series last year, later thanked the Ateneo alumni for their support.
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