PAUL Desiderio admitted a tough match-up against reigning MVP Ben Mbala threw him off his game in University of the Philippines' loss to a vengeful La Salle side in UAAP Season 80 on Sunday.
After exploding for 30 points in a shock UP win in the two teams' first-round clash, Desiderio was held to seven points on 2-of-13 shooting as the Maroons lost, 85-62, at the Filoil Flying V Centre.
Desiderio's struggles, however, were understandable considering the 6-1 Cebuano guard often found himself having to shoot over a tall, nimble defender in Mbala.
"First quarter pa lang, nagulat ako. Laki ng tao ko, naiilang ako parati," said Desiderio, who was averaging a shade above 17 points prior to the rematch with the Green Archers.
With La Salle coach Alden Ayo sticking to a tall rotation, Desiderio often had to defend Mbala at the other end of the floor.
"Pagdating ng second quarter, wala akong choice kundi bantayan si Ben. Napagod din ako," said Desiderio.
"Naka-three bigs din sila eh. Kung papalabasin ko si Ibra kay Ben, wala kaming rim protector. Kinuha ko na lang talaga," he added.
Mbala, who has shown a lot of improvement since his stint with Cameroon in the last Fiba Afrobasket, finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, but took bigger pride in his defense.
"I'm bigger than him, I just have to stay in front of him even if I got blown by. I'm bigger and faster, I can cover him. And that's what I was able to do today," Mbala said.
Desiderio said the experience of playing against Mbala will make him better down the road.
"Learning experience na rin 'yun. Akala ko okay lang na hindi ako iwan. Ngayon, malaki na nagbabantay sa akin. Sobrang nakakailang na," said Desiderio.