DE La Salle and Adamson square off to begin the Final Four on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena as the title chase in Season 79 of the UAAP heats up.
To no ones’ surprise, the Green Archers topped the elimination round with a 13-1 win-loss record thanks in large part of the dominance of Ben Mbala, who is set to receive his MVP trophy during the finals.
The Falcons, on the other hand, turned out to be the biggest surprise of the year with head coach Franz Pumaren transforming the perennial also-rans into a Final Four team by finishing with an 8-6 slate.
Before the Final Four begins, SPIN.ph takes a look at the keys to the first semifinal series, as well as our prediction (Note: As top seed, La Salle enjoys twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four).
SEASON SERIES REVIEW
September 24: DLSU 91, ADAMSON 75
October 9: DLSU 86, ADAMSON 79
KEYS TO THE SERIES
Control the boards
The Green Archers lorded it over the boards in the two matches against the Falcons, including a 54-32 edge in their first-round match-up. From those, 16 rebounds were by Mbala. Adamson did better in the second round — 41 against the 50 of La Salle — thanks to the collaborative effort on the boards by Papi Sarr, Sean Manganti, and Jerick Ahanmisi, which led to a much closer game.
With both teams employing a pressure defense, the guards will play a big factor on who will control the pace. Kib Montalbo and Aljun Melecio played key roles in the two wins of La Salle over Adamson, although the Falcons’ 13 steals in the second meeting led to a close game.
La Salle’s bench delivered in both victories with an 82-48 discrepancy in points. Adamson’s point production was even four points lesser than the combined totals of Montalbo, Melecio and Ricci Rivero, who came out with important baskets off the La Salle bench in both matches.
Mbala vs Sarr
The complexion of the series could also be determined by how Sarr will be able to contain Mbala. In the two eliminations games, Sarr gave up an average of 19.5 points and 13.5 rebounds against Mbala. Sarr actually did a respectable outing against Mbala including a 14-point, 15-rebound effort in the first round, but it wasn’t enough.
Every time the Falcons win this season, one player has always stepped up from out of nowhere to deliver, and it would be up for La Salle to prevent that from happening. In the second round, Jonathan Espeleta was started by Pumaren against La Salle and he delivered with nine points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 19 minutes of action in the second round. He proved to be a ‘magic bunot’ a few more games later when he sparked the Falcons to a win over Far Eastern U.
Rookies stepping up
Rookies stepped up for both squads in their regular season meetings. As earlier mentioned, Melecio and Rivero provided a big lift for La Salle in the two teams' season series. While Ahanmisi waxed hot with an average of 24.5 points in both games, Robbie Manalang was silent in the second round match-up, scoring just three points while turning the ball over five times in the tight contest.
Aldin Ayo has a proven record, winning the NCAA crown in his first and only year with Letran, and is on pace to do the same for the Green Archers. But one can never underestimate what Pumaren has brought to the Falcons. Remember, in also his first year with La Salle, Pumaren led the Green Archers to the title in 1998, the first of a four-peat for the squad.
La Salle is just a cut above the rest this season, so an upset is remote. Don’t be surprised, however, if Adamson, playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude, gives the Green Archers all they could handle on Wednesday.