Wednesday , April 25, 2018

Mendoza: Ateneo proud loser to arch rival La Salle

LA SALLE showed championship poise, yes, but then, didn’t Ateneo display guts worthy of emulation?

The Green Archers used their scary Game 1 victory as a head-knocker to prod them to stash a well-deserved Game 2 win on Wednesday.

La Salle’s two-game sweep of Ateneo in the best-of-three Finals gave the Archers their ninth UAAP title.

No surprise there whatsoever. Ateneo deserves kudos for providing a thrill rarely seen in an admittedly one-sided affair.

To their endless consternation, the Eagles found that La Salle’s talent-laden lineup was simply too much to match.

Still, the supposed mismatch turned into an action-packed showdown, drawing back-to-back jam-packed crowds at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

But La Salle’s sweet sweep was almost a foregone conclusion.

It had Ben Mbala, the 6-foot-7 African dynamo, to begin with.

Mbala, to those not in the know, was plucked out by millions of reasons from his Cebu base and transplanted to Taft Avenue.

“He is being paid at least a million bucks a year since his transfer,” said to me by a primo of mine, who was a former top gun in the La Salle organization. “Since we got to the Final 4, he was provided with a bodyguard. You know how underworld characters operate here.”

If you have a player like MBala, who churns out double-double in every game like it is his second nature, how could you lose?

And as if Mbala wasn’t enough thorn on the Ateneo side, what about Jeron Teng, La Salle’s howitzer, who banged home 28 points in the Archers’ title-clinching 79-72 victory to emerge Finals MVP?

Teng alone fired 19 points in Wednesday’s first two quarters, giving La Salle a 45-35 halftime margin that was never really threatened the rest of the way.

But as I said, Ateneo had nothing to be ashamed of.

Before Season 79 began, Ateneo lost four key players to graduation. It saw seven potential mainstays leave due to academic pitfalls.

Not known to sacrifice “books for balls,” Ateneo was even seeded No. 6 in the 8-school field.

By finishing a strong second to a team conceded to prevail from Day One—even dethroning FEUports in the Final 4 semifinals—it already felt like Ateneo had won the crown. Neat.