After getting a kick out pass from star wingman Jeron Teng, La Salle rookie Ricci Rivero went for a pump fake from the right corner, drove hard to the baseline and took a long step to his left then scooped up a shot under the outstretched right arm of National U’s Matt Salem.
Sure he provided yet another highlight reel, but the 6-foot-1 Rivero is more eager to provide the defensive tenacity for the talent-laden Green Archers.
“Nag-all out lang kami sa defense at ‘yun naman talaga ang magpapanalo sa amin,” he told sports scribes following La Salle’s 75-66 victory over National U on Sunday to sustain its dominant start in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
With the Green Archers down by as many as nine points in the third canto, La Salle’s first-year coach Aldin Ayo tapped Rivero to provide the needed spark off the bench and the high-flying guard didn’t disappoint, scoring back-to-back layups that helped trim their deficit to just 52-54 going to the final frame.
Then Rivero, primarily tasked to slow down NU gunner J-Jay Alejandro, teamed up with Teng and big man Abu Tratter during their decisive push that allowed them to notch their fourth straight victory in as many outings.
While he’s fast turning out as one of the most exciting freshmen this year, Rivero said he intends to do his own share on the defensive end more.
“Kailangan ko mag-step up sa defense,” he said. “And off the bench, kailangan ready lang ako. Hindi naman ako gagamitin ni coach para umsikor kasi marami naman kaming scorers.”
Rivero provided his initial jaw-dropping play in La Salle’s 100-62 win over host University of Santo Tomas last Wednesday when he converted a two-handed reverse dunk in the closing seconds.
The former La Salle-Greenhills star admitted his “willingness to win” has been the main reason why’ he’s thriving this early.
“Siguro ‘yung willingness ko lang na manalo, ‘yun lang talaga,” he said.
“Super thankful ako kasi nandyan mga coaches namin and seniors ko na palagi nagbibigay ng advices sa amin. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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