MANILA, Philippines – Justine Baltazar knocked in the dagger basket as La Salle rallied past the National University, 80-76, to grab its first victory in the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday, September 19 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Baltazar buried the go-ahead jumper from the baseline, 78-76, with 28 seconds left before a pair of Andrei Caracut free throws cushioned La Salle’s lead with 10.7 ticks remaining.
“Siguro sa practice, mga 100 times ko na naitakbo talaga [yung play]. Yun nga yung last play na yun, sinabi ko talaga [kay Justine], pag nakuha mo, tira mo na,” said La Salle head coach Louie Gonzalez.
(I guess we ran that play for around a 100 times in practice. That last play, I told Justine that if he gets the ball he should just shoot it.)
Aljun Melecio topscored with 19 points and Baltazar also had a huge double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds as the Green Archers recovered from their opening-weekend loss to Far Eastern University.
Both La Salle and NU wound up with identical 1-1 records.
Melecio drew a crucial foul off Enzo Joson in the corner allowing him to sink 2 of 3 charities to tie the score at 76-all.
After Troy Rike missed both his freebies, Baltazar nailed the decisive jumper before Caracut sealed the victory.
The Green Archers, last season’s finalists, bounced back from a lackluster 1-of-17 outing from beyond the arc in the first half in a 3rd-quarter surge capped by a Melecio triple that gave them the lead, 52-51.
“Playing against [NU coach Jamike Jarin] for the last 3 years, alam ko marami siyang ibabato talaga. Very evident sa first half that we struggled,” admitted Gonzalez. “Kailangan ma-overcome namin ang sarili namin, saka lang kami pwede mag-compete.”
(Playing agains NU coach Jamike Jarin for the last 3 years, I knew that he’d cook up a lot of strategies. Very evident in the first half that we struggled. We need to overcome a lot of things in order to compete well.)
After Rike’s freebies tied the score at 55-all, the Green Archers dropped an 8-0 run punctuated by a pair of threes from Jollo Go for a 63-55 advantage.
The Bulldogs rallied back with a 7-0 spurt in the payoff period capped by John Lloyd Clemente’s crucial 3-point play, 67-66.
After both teams traded leads, Shaun Ildefonso’s triple tied the game at 74-all followed by Rike’s jumper to give NU the edge, 76-74.
Dave Ildefonso paced the Bulldogs with 16 points while Rike added 15 points to go with 6 boards.
La Salle 80 – Melecio 19, Baltazar 17, Santillan 10, Go 10, Manuel 7, Caracut 6, Montalbo 4, Bates 4, Dyke 2, Serrano 1, Corteza 0.
NU 76 – Ildefonso D 16, Rike 15, Clemente 12, Ildefonso S 9, Joson 8, Gaye 8, Diputado 2, Gallego 2, Sinclair 2, Galinato 2, Yu 0, Aquino 0, Tibayan 0, Malonzo 0.
Quarters: 16-25, 35-38, 65-59, 80-76