The De La Salle Green Archers were the heavy favorites to take home the UAAP Season 80 crown. They were poised to win two straight championships until they found themselves severely challenged by the hungry and motivated Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals.
In the end, they failed to defend their title as they suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of their arch-nemesis.
For back-to-back MVP Ben Mbala, they simply lost to a better team.
The most dominant player in the league finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in their do-or-die match on Sunday. But his efforts were not enough to lead his team back to the promised land.
“We didn’t get to play our game. We didn’t have our rhythm. We just played within the flow and we took a lot of bad shots, turned the ball over when it was the most important,” the big man said about their loss.
Mbala did everything humanly possible for La Salle. Suiting up for the Cameroon national team in the FIBA AfroBasket forced him to miss a couple of UAAP games, but it hardly even mattered as the season progressed. In fact, his experience in the international tournament even helped him become more threatening – as if he wasn’t already beasting the previous year – when he came back. He churned out double-double performances, gave nightmares to opposing teams, and effortlessly looked like a pro among the amateurs.
It’s not like Big Ben had to do it on his own. He also got support from his teammates, especially from fellow Mythical Five member Ricci Rivero, team captain Kib Montalbo, and gunner Aljun Melecio.
But after three nail-biting games in the finals where they had to play catch up every time, La Salle found themselves on the losing end.
The 6-foot-8 center encouraged his team to still put their heads up and told them, “You guys gave your best. You won’t always be a winner. Sometimes you just have to be on the side of the losers, unluckily we were on the side of the losers.”
Surrendering the trophy to their rivals is definitely painful, but as with any other heartbreak, this could also teach them valuable lessons that they can apply as they recover and give it another go.
“It has to be a learning experience for me,” Mbala said. “You can’t just learn by winning, you can also learn by losing. This is a situation that you have to learn by losing and I take it as a man.”
When asked if he’s still eligible to play for La Salle next season, Mbala replied, “I still have one more year. I need to talk to my school and then we’ll figure it out.”
With Mbala at the forefront and the rest of the team still intact, expect the loaded Green Archers to take this opportunity to get even stronger and better as they gun for another title next year.