By Jerome Lagunzad
Defending champion La Salle made mincemeat of winless University of Santo Tomas, 94-59, yesterday to close in on the remaining twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Shifty guard Ricci Rivero, coming off the bench anew, tallied 11 of his 16 points in their decisive push in the second, while three other teammates, including reigning league MVP Ben Mbala, scored in double figures as La Salle picked up its fifth straight victory and 10th overall in 12 matches.
The Tigers suffered their 12th straight loss—and 16th overall dating back to last season.
“We played well on defense,” said the 6-foot-7 Mbala who had 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in less than 20 minutes of play.
“We were able to force them to make (24) turnovers and we were able to convert in transition (24 points off turnovers). We were able to play as a team, stay focused and stick to the game plan.”
La Salle has now beaten UST four straight with an average winning margin of 36.25 points.
The Tigers drew 25 points from Marvin Lee and 14 points and 10 rebounds from Cameroon center Steve Akomo.
After a tightly-fought opening period, the Green Archers unloaded a 21-4 bomb to take a 45-24 halftime lead.
The Archers kept pounding the Tigers and took their biggest lead at 85-43 on Jollo Go’s back-to-back three-point shots.
LA SALLE 94 – Mbala 17, Rivero R 16, Go 12, Rivero P 10, Tratter 8, Caracut 7, Melecio 6, Santillan 6, Capacio 5, Baltazar 4, Montalbo 2, Paraiso 1, Tero 0, Gonzales 0.
UST 59 – Lee 25, Akomo 14, Sta. Ana 4, De Guzman 4, Basibas 4, Escalambre 4, Macasaet 2, Soriano 2, Faundo 0, Caunan 0, Romero 0, Kwawukumey 0.
Quarters: 20-16, 45-24, 77-41, 94-59.