The biggest—literally and figuratively—sideshow of the NU-La Salle tussle Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum was no doubt the matchup between 2 of the most dominant big men in Season 79, Alfred Aroga and Ben Mbala.
With the Bulldogs putting their spotless record on the line against a rampaging La Salle crew, the Cameroonian was expected to engage in a slugfest with Mbala in order to carry the daunting task of stopping the Green Archers.
In almost 22 minutes inside the court, however, the 6-foot-6 cager only managed to tally 3 rebounds and 2 assists which was made worse by his paltry 20% shooting from the field.
Pressed for his reaction on the anticipated showdown, Aroga shut down the thought saying there was no individual matchup to begin with.
“People always talking about matchup. The journalists like to talk about that. It’s La Salle vs NU,” he told the press, clearly not liking the line of questioning.
“There is no matchup in this game. I don’t like talking about matchup. I don’t really care about that,” he added. “Every time I go in a game, my mindset is NU vs this team. It’s never 1 vs 5. It’s this team vs this team. I’m not an individual player. I’m a team player.”
Mbala, also a Cameroonian, dazzled in contrast, connecting on 7 of 14 attempts to finish the match with a double-double of 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Stepping up to the plate for NU was former La Salle player Matt Salem, who topscored for the Bulldogs with 15 points and 9 rebounds.
With a lead as big as 52-43 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs all of a sudden suffocated on La Salle’s press and failed to recover.
“I can’t say it’s an off day. They’re (a) pretty good team. And they’re really big. But they were beatable,” said Aroga.
“We had a lot of turnovers. We got out of the system,” he added. “But it’s all right. We (will) move on. We (will) think about the next game.”
With Aroga struggling, NU head coach Eric Altamirano called on 6-foot-9 Matt Aquino to bolster the team’s defense only to have the debuting cager dish 3 points and 3 rebounds in almost 15 minutes of action.
Nonetheless, the veteran Aroga is satisfied with the young gun’s performance.
“He was good. He was really there. He helped the team. That’s what we need in the upcoming games. He’s gonna help the team a lot,” he said.
The Bulldogs will be looking to bounce back quickly when they face Adamson on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena. — By Mac Dionisio