UAAP: Baltazar, Melecio lift La Salle over NU for 1st win
Justine Baltazar buried the go-ahead basket as La Salle came back to beat National University, 80-76, for its first win in the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball tournament Wednesday night at Mall of Asia Arena.
Balztazar hit a jumper from the left baseline off an inbound pass to put the Green Archers ahead, 78-76, with 28 seconds left.
“I think I’ve ran that play for like a 100 times in practice. Like what I told you guys before Justine will play a big role for us this season,” said La Salle coach Louie Gonzalez, whose squad rallied from 11 points down in the second period.
“I told him to shoot when he gets the ball,” Gonzalez recalled of his crucial play that left Baltazar wide open.
The third-year big man notched a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds while Aljun Melecio led all scorers with 19 points for La Salle, which bounced back from a 68-61 loss to Far Eastern University on September 9.
The Archers ended the game on a 6-0 spurt after Troy Rike gave the Bulldogs a 76-74 edge with 1:42 remaining.
“Whatever the odds, the adversity they faced earlier in the game, I looked at them and saw their composure,” Gonzalez, who is in his first year at La Salle’s helm following the transfer of Aldin Ayo to University of Santo Tomas in December of last year.
Rookie Dave Ildefonso led NU, which slipped to 1-1, for the second straight game with 16 points.
Rike had 15 points and six rebounds but missed two free throws that would’ve put NU in the driver’s seat with 53 ticks remaining.
The Bulldogs faltered when it mattered most with major lapses on both ends in the last two minutes.
Up by two, 76-74, Enzo Joson fouled Melecio while taking a 3-pointer with Melecio making 2-of-3 free throws with 1:25 left.
NU also couldn’t get the ball inbounds after Baltazar’s jumper and wasted a chunk of the time left before intentionally fouling to stop the clock.
Andrei Caracut sealed the game with a pair of freebies with only 11 seconds to go.
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