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UNBEATEN NO MORE: La Salle prevents Ateneo sweep with fiery comeback win

Kib Montalbo nailed the game winner with 40 ticks left as La Salle eked out a 79-76 win to end the UAAP men's basketball eliminations.
By Kevin Estrada

QUEZON CITY -- UNBEATEN NO MORE.

Defending champions La Salle finally got the job done for what the other six schools have failed to do in the past three months, foiling the sweep bid of league leading Ateneo in a pulsating 79-76 win at the end of the UAAP Men's Basketball regular season Sunday evening at the Big Dome.

The Green Archers fell from seven points down in the final three minutes of the game, closing the game with a 10-0 bomb to prevent the Blue Eagles from going directly to the Finals, forcing the conventional Final Four format in the process.

Ben Mbala and Ricci River teamed up for La Salle, firing for 28 and 21 respectively for Aldin Ayo who ended the regular season at 12-2.

Thirdy Ravena's 15 points for Ateneo went down the drain in their bid for a sweep that will give them a free ride to the Final, in which only UST (1993) and UE (2007) remain the only schools to end the regular season spotless.

It was a slow start to the game as the eternal enemies measure them up, with La Salle made its move first after coming out of their opening exchanges with a five-point cushion on an Abu Tratter putback.

But Ateneo quickly recovered and fired a 10-0 reply to take a five-point lead of their own at the end of the first, in which Matt Nieto and Isaac Go combined for eight points in that stretch.

That lead ballooned to seven to start the second courtesy of buckets by Jolo Mendoza and Go but the Green Archers slowly chipped away to the lead by forcing stops and fouls, resulting in a grind-out heading into the half-time break with La Salle nabbing the upper-hand with a Ricci Rivero triple to put them up by two.

However, the third period belong to Ateneo as Thirdy Ravena ignited an early 10-0 blitz to overturn an early six-point lead, scoring eight of his 10 third-quarter points in that stretch before the supporting cast capped of their amazing turnaround with a nine-point lead thanks to a Mendoza triple heading into the payoff frame.

With the backs up against the wall, La Salle displayed the heart that made them the champions from last season, as they slowly piling the points to put the game in a tight spot in the final frame.

The Green Archers held Ateneo scoreless in the final 2:21 of the game, where Vince Tolentino's shot proved to be Ateneo's final bucket as the champions went on a lockdown, sealing  the win with a Kib Montalbo floater with 40.1 seconds to go.

Ateneo tried to sneak one last play under La Salle's noses, but Go had the nerves get the better of him by muffing his open shot after getting Mbala on a flyby.

Rivero then sealed their historic payback with a pair of freebies as they thwarted Anton Asistio's last second heave to send the green side of 13, 967 paying patrons in ecstasy.

The Scores

La Salle 79 – Mbala 28, R. Rivero 21, Tratter 8, Santillan 7, Melecio 6, Montalbo 6, Go 3, Caracut 0, P. Rivero 0, Baltazar 0, Paraiso 0

Ateneo 76 – Ravena 15, Go 13, Matt Nieto 12, Verano 9, Mendoza 7, Asistio 6, Tolentino 6, Ikeh 4, Porter 3, Mike Nieto 1, Mamuyac 0, Black 0

Quarter scores: 17-22, 37-35, 54-63, 79-76

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada
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