La Salle’s prized import Ben Mbala may have finally found his match after struggling against the defense of Ateneo sophomore big man Isaac Go on Saturday.
The 6-foot-8 Go did a commendable job on putting the clamps down on the do-it-all Mbala as Ateneo pierced La Salle’s cloak of invincibility with an impressive 83-71 victory to clinch a Final Four berth in the UAAP Season 78 men’s basketball tourney.
Coming off the bench, Go made his presence felt as he tallied 10 points, seven rebounds, a block against a pair of turnovers while helping slow down the 6-foot-7 Mbala.
The bulky Mbala finished with another double-double effort of 17 points and 10 rebounds, but collected a big chunk of his output when the result was already beyond doubt.
“He held the fort for us,” said Ateneo’s top assistant Sandy Arespacochaga of Go, who teamed up with the likes of Cameroon import Chibueze Ikeh and G-Boy Babilonia in containing Mbala.
Behind Go’s defensive exploits, Ateneo nailed its third straight victory, improved to 7-4 overall and tightened its grip on third spot, staying hot on the heels of defending champion Far Eastern U (8-2) for the second and last twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
More importantly, the Blue Eagles evened up their head-to-head matchup with the Green Archers, avenging an 81-97 loss in their initial meeting last Oct. 2 while foiling their arch rivals’ bid for a possible 14-game sweep that could give them an outright seat in the best-of-three Finals.
Go refused to take all the credit, gladly sharing the plaudits to his teammates. “It’s a great team win. Everybody stepped up and followed the game plan,” he stressed.
“Our job as players was to follow the game plan and we did that. It’s a great win but we can’t be satisfied. This is a great step forward. We’re chasing the number 2 seed, but we can’t be complacent,” said Go.
Asked what helped him get the better of his matchup with Mbala, Go responded: “(I just) Prayed to God for guidance. Getting a chance to play in the Ateneo-La Salle, (it’s) beyond blessing. I studied the game plan. We studied everything we needed to do. Of course, with the help of my family, they prepared me mentally.”
Arespacochaga could only be proud of Go and Ateneo’s front court got the job done.
“The way he speaks, that’s the mindset of all our big guys. He (Go) did a great job especially when some of our players got into foul trouble. That allowed a couple of our players a time to rest. Credit to him and all the other big guys,” he said.
Go, humble as ever, still tipped his hat to Mbala and his La Salle counterparts.
“They’re great players and that’s what great players do. They came out in the second half and adjust ed to that. At the end of the day they’re still a heck of players,” he said. – Jerome Lagunzad
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