Undermanned and undersized, the De La Salle Green Archers fell as easy prey to Bright Akhuetie and the recharged UP Fighting Maroons.
The Maroons pounced on an injury-hit DLSU side to claim a 67-61 victory Sunday in UAAP Season 81 at the Mall of Asia Arena. Coming off a heartbreaking 69-68 loss to the Adamson Soaring Falcons last Wednesday, the Maroons finally snapped a three-game losing skid against last season’s runners-up.
With the dominance of Bright Akhuetie inside the paint, the Maroons lorded it over the Archers in rebounding and inside scoring – something that was next to impossible during the Ben Mbala era. Akhuetie manhandled the De La Salle frontline, easily backing down Leonard Santillan, Justine Baltazar and Brandon Bates in the post.
The Maroons led in rebounds, 25-20, and in points in the paint, 40-32. The Nigerian behemoth finished with game-high 19 points, along with 12 rebounds.
Down to 11 players, the Archers clearly missed the ceiling provided by Taane Samuel and the defense of Kib Montalbo. With the veteran De La Salle guard nursing a fractured thumb, coach Louie Gonzalez had lesser defenders available against UP spitfire Juan Gomez De Liano.
The Season 80 Rookie of the Year contributed 17 markers on 8-of-15 (53%) shooting from the field, including four straight buckets that cut short an 11-0 DLSU run in the final period. Down 61-47 with 7:17 remaining in the game, Santillan, Baltazar, Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut conspired in a searing rally to cut the Maroons’ lead to one.
With 2:07 to go, Gomez De Liano sliced through the defense to score on a layup and restore order for the Maroons.
Coach Bo Perasol lauded the all-game brilliance of his dynamic duo, but reminded the rest of his roster of their valuable contribution for the rest of the season. “We always rely on them, but we need some better games from the bench and those who are starting. I think this win is going to motivate us to do better. It’s not just Bright, it’s not just Juan, it’s not just Paul (Desiderio). It has to be everybody,” Perasol said.
In a losing effort, Baltazar paced the Archers with 13 points and seven rebounds.
UP improves their win-loss record to 2-3, while DLSU drops to 2-2.
The Maroons return to action on October 7 against the NU Bulldogs. The Archers next face the UST Growling Tigers, featuring their former coach Aldin Ayo, on October 3.