By Jerome Lagunzad
La Salle center Ben Mbala yesterday hoisted the highest individual award for the second straight year after emerging the runaway winner for the Most Valuable Player plum in the 80th UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
The 6-foot-7 Cameroonian accounted for a league-best 26.0 points anchored on a 52 percent shooting clip on top of 13.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game in the course of the Green Archers’ 12-2 win-loss record in the eliminations.
Mbala, 22, became the first back-to-back MVP titleholder in the UAAP since former Ateneo star and incoming NLEX rookie Kiefer Ravena in 2014 and 2015.
Mbala, fondly called by many as “Big Ben” for his dominant plays on both ends, also joined an elite group of La Salle players who also accomplished the feat – Don Allado (1998 and 1999), Mark Telan (1996 and 1997) and Jun Limpot (1989 and 1990).
As expected, Mbala led this year’s Mythical Team selection that also included La Salle teammate Ricci Rivero, Thirdy Ravena of Ateneo, National University’s J-Jay Alejandro and Alvin Pasaol of University of the East.
University of the Philippines’ blue-chip recruit Juan Gomez de Liaño was the hands-down choice as the Rookie of the Year awardee.
In the distaff side, center Jack Animam of ‘four-peat’-seeking NU claimed her first-ever MVP award.
The 6-foot-2 Animam, the tourney’s best rebounder with 16.35 boards and top shotblocker with 2.92 swats per game, followed the footsteps of fellow Lady Bulldogs star Afril Bernardino, who claimed the MVP honors from 2014 to 2016.
Joining Animam in the Mythical Team selection are NU teammates Ria Nabalan and Congolese center Rhena Itesi, Love Sto. Domingo of UE and University of Santo Tomas ace Jhenn Angeles.
Adjudged as the Rookie of the Year is UP’s Justine Domingo.