La Salle forces game 3 after choking Ateneo in a furious second-half turnaround

After incurring his fourth foul towards the end of the first half, Ricci Rivero went berserk in the second half as La Salle forces Game 3. Franchesca Nicole Collantes/Dugout Philippines
By Kevin Estrada

QUEZON CITY -- With a heart of a champion in full display, reigning UAAP champions La Salle have lived to fight for another day after repulsing Ateneo, 92-83 in Game 2 of the UAAP Men's Basketball Finals Wednesday evening at the Araneta Coliseum.

With their title defense slipping away in the first half, the Green Archers overturned a 21 point lead and launched a third quarter onslaught to even the series at one game apiece.

La Salle remained unbeaten under the Big Dome this year, forcing a winner-take-all tiff this Sunday at the same venue with their 9th straight win.

Cameroonian center Benoit Mbala displayed his credentials as the league's best player for the second time in as many years, pounding the paint with a double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds, while swatting four more shots.

Ricci Rivero had incurred his fourth personal foul in the second period, but went berserk by scoring 8 of his 18 points in the pivotal third frame to give the MVP a huge lift.

Thirdy Ravena dropped 20 for Ateneo who lost their third straight game in Cubao that saw 15, 286 patrons turned up.

The Blue Eagles thought that they will clinch their ninth UAAP title on Sunday when they almost put the champions on the ropes with 3:23 to go in the first half, leading by as much as 21, 48-29 on a split by Anton Asistio, who scored all of his 13 points in the opening 20 minutes.

But La Salle fought back and slowly chipped away the lead in which they reduce it to single minutes by halftime.

And then the Green Archers put Ateneo on total lockdown in the third, outscoring them by 18 while limiting them to single digits and kept Ravena scorless in that stretch.

Aaron Black tried to mount a fourth-quarter fightback by scoring 11 of his 15 markers there but the Blue Eagles only came close to four points as Mbala, Rivero and Aljun Melecio put an 8-0 closing to send the titanic rivalry into the fifth and final chapter.

The Scores

La Salle 92 -- Mbala 20, R. Rivero 18, Caracut, 13, Melecio 12, Montalbo 9, P. Rivero 8, Santillan 8, Tratter 4, Baltazar 0, Go 0, Tero 0

Ateneo 83 -- Ravena 20, Black 15, Asistio 13, Go 11, Matt Nieto 10, Ikeh 6, Mendoza 5, Tolentino 2, Tio 1, Mamuyac 0, Mike Nieto 0, Porter 0, Verano 0

Quarter scores: 15-32, 42-51, 68-59, 92-83

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada