Ateneo hopes to find way around Mbala in finals rematch

Philip Matel on Nov 22, 2017 09:41 PM
Ateneo hopes to find way around Mbala in finals rematch
In order to take down the defending champs De La Salle Green Archers, Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespachocaga hopes that the team help find a way to go around the soon-to-be two-time MVP in order to exact revenge for last year's finals loss.

Ateneo Blue Eagles head coach Sandy Arespachochaga said that the team would have to find a way around reigning MVP Ben Mbala to even have a chance of beating La Salle in the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball finals which begins Saturday.

Mbala, who is expected to win his second straight MVP award and currently averaging 26.1 points and 13.2 rebounds for the Green Archers, is seen as the premier threat to their defense, and hopes to find a way to avoid foul trouble for the Blue Eagles.

Though Mbala is both the defensive and offensive anchor for La Salle, Arespacochaga added that the defending champions will not be only be defined by the star center.

“There is a reason why they're in the finals, they're the defending champs. We have no illusion that it's going to be easy game for us. We have to dig deep, and really play,” the assistant coach said after their 88-84 victory against tough FEU.

In writing another chapter for the most storied rivalry in collegiate sports, the Blue Eagles have found their stride and now will be focusing their attention at a chance for payback in last year’s loss.

Now that a year has passed, Arespacochaga said that lessons have indeed been learned and that though history has a way of repeating itself, but then again they have an opportunity to rewrite it.

“It's a very good test of character for the boys, another opportunity for them to grow. And we're thankful for this opportunity just to have a chance to compete, to have a chance to win the championship.”

Mike Nieto, who scored several clutch baskets to help the Blue Eagles book another trip to the Finals seconded his coach’s sentiments, adding that he and Vince Tolentino as leaders told their team to just enjoy the series, and just stay in the moment.

“Importante ang game one on Saturday because the next game, it's an Ateneo-La Salle game, we'll treat it as a normal game, kasi wala eh, nag-two games na kami against them, we won the other one, and we lost the next one,” Nieto said.

With Ateneo trailing by eight midway through the fourth quarter, 67-59, the lead assistant coach praised the team’s focus, which was the key in helping them avoid a major upset.

“You do not expect them to be perfect, and bounce back from the mistakes. We committed some mistakes and FEU capitalized on that. Our boys remained focused, they didn't succumb to the pressure, and they stayed focus to the task at hand.”

Though they are enjoying the victory, Arespacochaga said that the team will not delve on the win and will stay focused for Game 1 on Saturday at the MOA Arena.

For a fourth-seeded Tamaraw team that forced sudden death and even was one defensive stop away from an upset and a Finals berth, Arespacochaga commended the team’s effort for taking the top-seeded Blue Eagles to the limit.

As for the individual player matchups against a deep roster in La Salle, Arespacochaga said that that they will approach the matchup as a collective effort, and not put emphasis on a player-to-player matchup.

“La Salle's the defending champs. They have the MVP, they've got very good players. And it you look for it, man for man, it's a very big task for us.”

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