Surviving a solid test given by NU should only help powerhouse La Salle get better in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament.
That’s precisely what Ben Mbala thinks so, saying the Green Archers remain a work in progress despite streaking to their fourth straight victory — a 75-66 win over the erstwhile unscathed Bulldogs last Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
La Salle endured early struggles against NU and trailed by as many as 9 points in the third canto before coming up with a decisive push ignited by star wingman Jeron Teng to keep its unbeaten start going.
“We need to play against strong teams to know what’s going wrong with our defense and what we can do better because if we keep having easy games and have winning by a big margin, it won’t really help us,” said the 6-foot-7 Mbala, who rammed in his fourth straight double-double outing of 16 markers and 15 rebounds.
While he and Teng delivered solid numbers anew, Mbala also gave credit to their teammates who provided them ample lift to help ease the offensive load in the crunch.
“Basketball is a team sport and coach (Aldin Ayo) is expecting everyone coming off the bench to be able to produce and they were able to do that today. We really got lucky that we were able to get the ‘W.’ But I’m really happy that they’re able to step up,” he said.
Before dropping their first match in 3 starts, the Bulldogs certainly gave the Green Archers all they could handle—at least in the first 30 minutes.
“If I have to use a word for NU, I use ‘team.’ They really play as a team and they really patient,” stressed Mbala. “And you know, they’re able to get you tired until the fourth quarter but as long as you stick to the game plan, you can play them and get the ‘W.’”
Mbala decisively won his personal duel with NU counterpart Alfred Aroga, his fellow Cameroonian who struggled in almost 22 minutes of play, turning the ball over seven times while collecting jet two points, three rebounds and a pair of assists.
And the Green Archers import admitted he’s far from satisfied with his latest performance. “I feel like i didn’t play with…I was kind of in a rush in attacking the basket and making plays for my teammates. I feel like I could have done better in this game,” he said.
Although they appear to have all the tools to complete a first-round sweep, Mbala isn’t one to look that far ahead.
“I feel like we can do much better and you know, we still have to put in the work during practice and keep on pushing, building our team chemistry to be able to be a complete team in the second round or in the playoffs,” he stressed. — By Jerome Lagunzad