The UAAP Season 80 Review: A Year Filled with Surprises and Drama

Nevertheless, it has been a season for the books

La Salle vs Ateneo
This season’s Men’s Basketball Tournament is more than just about the Ateneo-La Salle Rivalry.
Over the past seasons, the Men’s Basketball tournament of the UAAP has been one of the country’s most exciting basketball leagues and mind you, folks. The UAAP is more than just about the fierce rivalry between the Ateneo de Manila Bule Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers. And Season 80 is no different at all.

For those who were probably stuck in their studies all while the basketball wars were happening, below are just some of the stories which this pundit on wheels thinks has made 2017 memorable for the UAAP fans:

Surprise!

One of the teams that made the most impact this year was the UP Fighting Maroons. And nobody expected them to win. Especially not against a powerhouse team like the Green Archers whom they beat surprisingly by a big margin. They did by shutting down the rest of the Archers as Ben Mbala was almost impossible to stop. And it worked. Throughout the entire season, Paul Desiderio hit numerous game-winning treys. Unfortunately, UP came short of making it to the Final 4 but given the fact they were able to beat La Salle, it’s only a matter of time until UP becomes a Final 4-bound team.

Ateneo’s Redemption Season

After losing in the Finals last season against Jeron Teng and company, the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles wasted no time as they began the season by winning the first 13 games only to lose on the 14th against their archrivals. Then, their backs were forced onto the wall as the Far Eastern University Tamaraws forced a sudden-death match against the number one team. Fortunately, Isaac Go redeemed himself as he nailed two clutch baskets- one that forced overtime and the other one that sealed the win for the Eagles.
In the Finals against La Salle, Isaac Go was the hero of the series as he completed a 3-point play during the dying seconds of Game 1, allowing Ateneo to take Game 1. And when La Salle was threatening for the last time in a classic Game 3, Isaac Go received a pass from Thirdy Ravena and calmly drained a three-pointer to ice things up. Victory. Redemption. George Isaac Go.

La Salle’s Drama

Losing in the Finals against the Blue Eagles was definitely a bitter pill to swallow for the Archers. After all, they were the only ones who beat the Eagles during the elimination rounds.  And they came a defensive stop away from winning a second consecutive championship. They fell short. Tears were shred. Congratulatory and consoling hugs were exchanged. In the end, La Salle lost it all. And the drama was just getting started back then.
Coach Aldin Ayo said after the Finals series that 2-time MVP Ben Mbala still has one season of eligibility with the Green Archers. Then, Mbala said he has enough of the issues surrounding his eligibility owing to the reinstatement of the “seven years out of high school” rule by the UAAP. Mbala has taken his talents to Mexico after saying that he won’t waste a year doing nothing. In a snap, things went gloomier for La Salle.
Throughout the latter part of the season, Aldin Ayo’s name has been connected to the UST coaching job. Many speculated that Ayo’s former connections from the Letran Knights were pushing for him to transfer from Taft to Espana. At first, Ayo denied the rumors, saying that his commitment was with La Salle. WAS. After a few weeks, Aldin Ayo parted ways with the Green Archers- taking with him his coaching staff. Is Aldin Ayo really headed to Espana? We’ll all have to wait. 

Conclusion

Now that the season is over in the Men’s division, there are a few questions that need answers come Season 81. Will Ateneo repeat? Possibly. Who will take over from Ayo in La Salle? Nobody knows. For now. Will the Fighting Maroons ever make it back to the Final 4? That’s up for a debate. Nevertheless, it has been a pleasant season in general- except if you’re a fan of the UST Growling Tigers. 

What Mbala’s departure means for La Salle and for the UAAP in general?

Mbala’s decision is final and is taking his talents to Mexico

Ever since coming into the UAAP last season, Ben Mbala has become a force to be reckoned with. Literally and figuratively, he’s a beast on the court and has become the main defensive anchor of the De La Salle Green Archers for the last two seasons. He won the MVP twice and is a member of the Mythical Team for two seasons. He helped La Salle win the first 13 games of the UAAP back in Season 79 before winning the championship against the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.
Heading into Season 80, La Salle was tagged as favorites to repeat as champions despite losing Jeron Teng to graduation. And despite missing Ben Mbala for the first two games of the season due to Mbala’s commitment to his country’s national team, the Green Archers went on to return the favor to the Blue Eagles by ending the latter’s 13-game winning streak. Both teams went to the Finals again where Ateneo finally won the championship after winning the series, 2-1.
Coach Aldin Ayo has indicated right after the Finals that Ben Mbala will return for Season 81.
That was a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately for Aldin Ayo and company, they will have to figure things out on their own come next season because Ben Mbala has made the hardest and most heart-breaking decision not to return to the Green Archers. According to the reigning two-time MVP, his decision to leave La Salle was motivated by the questions surrounding his eligibility to play next season. This was due to the reports that the “Seven Year out of High School” rule has already lapsed. This rule was imposed by the UAAP to ease the lack of recruitment that was brought about by the implementation of the K-12 curriculum. Additionally, Ben Mbala has said that he felt it was already high time for him take his talents elsewhere instead of staying in Manila, doing nothing. He is now set to play in Mexico.

What Mbala’s departure means for La Salle and for the UAAP in general?

There’s no denying the fact that Ben Mbala is one of the best foreign players to play in the UAAP and La Salle will sorely miss him due to his competitiveness and the fact that he is almost impossible to guard. Replacing Mbala’s numbers would be a big headache for La Salle because it’s not every day that you see a kind of player who can score as if he’s LeBron James.
While La Salle will have headaches due to Mbala’s decision not to return, this could also mean less headache for the rest of the league. They won’t have to defend someone who is virtually unguardable. Also, Mbala’s decision has already made Ateneo’s road to repeating as champions, less complicated. 

Conclusion

Who will lead La Salle come next season and beyond? Like it or not, La Salle still has many players who can take over the leadership role and one of those guys is Ricci Rivero who played tremendously great this season. While losing Ben Mbala will be a big blow for La Salle, this will also allow other players to blossom. 

Ateneo’s Aaron Black and Thirdy Ravena combines for 40 points to beat UST

It was a grind it out game, from start to finish until Aaron Black converts a crucial basket to fend off UST, 73 to 69.

The score after 3rd quarter is 52 to 51 in favor of Ateneo but because of their good ball movement, they was able to have a good run to have a commanding 66 – 53 lead mid way of the last quarter.

UST tried to inch closer, they come closer up to 71 – 66 but a big shot from Aaron Black breaks the momentum of UST.

Aaron Black led the Blue Eagles with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assist while Louie Vigil finished with 21 points, 9 rebound and 5 assist for UST.

Box Scores:

ATENEO 73 – Black 23, Ravena 17, Nieto Mi 7, Asistio 6, Wong 5, Mendoza 5, Babilonia 4, Tolentino 2, Go 2, Nieto Ma 2, Ikeh 0, Porter 0, Verano 0

UST 69 – Vigil 21, Macasaet 12, Bonleon 9, Lao 8, Basibas 7, Faundo 6, Subido 2, Afoakwah 2, De Guzman 2, Sheriff 0, Lee 0, Arana 0, Huang 0

Scoring per quarter: 14-17, 34-34, 52-51, 73-69

Next Game for both team:
Ateneo against NU: September 11 at Araneta Coliseum

UST against UE: September 10 at Araneta Coliseum