MANILA, Philippines – The La Salle Green Archers fended off a nail-biting comeback by the UE Red Warriors, and escaped with a 71-66 win to cap off a long UAAP Season 84 kickoff day at the Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday, March 26.
Mystery man Schonny Winston introduced himself to Filipino fans in a big way with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting on top of 6 rebounds in 33 minutes, while PBA-ready center Justine Baltazar quietly tallied a 12-marker, 11-board double-double.
The scrappy Winston also had 3 steals, which all came in the pivotal second-quarter charge that transformed a 37-26 lead to a game-high 18-point gap, 47-29, shortly before halftime.
However, the unyielding Warriors made things interesting in the final frame after mounting a huge 16-4 run to inch within five, 55-60, and came as close as four points, 61-65, after a pair of Clint Escamis free throws with 3:55 remaining.
Sensing danger, Winston again barged front and center after an Evan Nelle floater with a morale-boosting triple at the 2:36 mark for a 70-61 cushion, which La Salle never relinquished until the final buzzer. Nelle, formerly a top San Beda guard in the NCAA, finished with 11 points.
“Still not a nice win but we have to take it,” said returning head coach Derrick Pumaren. “We still have a lot of things to do, correct a lot of things but we’ll take the W. We will work on our game.”
Nico Paranada and Harvey Pagsanjan led UE’s spirited rally with 13 points apiece, while Leon Lorenza chipped in 11 markers on 2-of-2 shooting from deep.
La Salle now moves on to Tuesday, March 29, hoping for another win against the NU Bulldogs at 4 pm. Meanwhile, UE will try to build on its positive showing this game in a 10 am day-opener against the Adamson Soaring Falcons.
La Salle 71 – Winston 22, Baltazar 12, Nelle 11, Nwankwo 10, Lojera 6, B. Phillips 4, Austria 4, M. Phillips 2, Manuel 0, Lim 0.
UE 66 – N. Paranada 13, Pagsanjan 13, Lorenzana 11, Antiporda 6, Sawat 5, Escamis 4, Villanueva 4, Tulabut 3, K. Paranada 2, Catacutan 2, Je. Cruz 2, Ja. Cruz 1, Abatayo 0, Beltran 0.
Quarters: 22-15, 47-31, 60-49, 71-66.