De La Salle's Ricci Rivero says, 'it wasn’t me who played. It was God' in game 2
MANILA, Philippines – Game 2 of the UAAP Season 80 men’s basketball finals between the 1-0 Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles and archrival De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers was expected to be a bloodbath. (Without the blood, of course. No need for another Matt Nieto situation.)
However, things went ugly very early for the men in green as they were beaten black and blue by the sharpshooting Eagles. For their opening salvo, Anton Asistio, Thirdy Ravena and Jolo Mendoza outscored the entire Archers squad 20-15 as Ateneo ended the 1st quarter with 32 points. At this point, newly-minted Mythical 5 members Ricci Rivero and 2-time Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala already had 2 fouls apiece to go along with a combined 4 points.
Things did not turn for the better at all for Rivero and La Salle as a whole at the 2nd quarter. Halfway through the period with the Archers in a dire 19-point hole, 51-32, the high-flyer was called for his 4th foul – one away from being disqualified. Clearly rattled, he started to openly shed tears back to the bench as Ateneo fans cheered loudly at his time of misery. Big bro Prince tried to console the younger Rivero as his team tried to stop the bleeding.
In emphatic fashion, Mbala threw down a rim-rocking alley-oop jam off an Aljun Melecio lob. Melecio then went on to score an and-one layup and three free throws off a foul from downtown. For good measure, Mbala completed the quarter-ending 10-0 run from a bruising putback. At the half, Ateneo suddenly found themselves just up by 9, 51-42, after leading by as many as 21.
Still without Rivero, Kib Montalbo and Andrei Caracut carried the load for La Salle at the start of the third, scoring in transition and from the charity stripe. About midway through the period, Coach Aldin Ayo then took the gamble and finally reinserted Rivero back into the game, much to the delight of the reawakened Archer fans. He promptly scored a routine acrobatic layup to cut Ateneo’s lead to just 4, 56-52. With “Mayhem” defense in full effect, La Salle went ahead and snatched away the lead, 60-58, their first advantage since 2-0 in the 1st. All of a sudden, it was now the defending champions who couldn’t be stopped as they scored 8 more to put them up 68-59 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Since the last tears of Rivero fell, La Salle had gone on a white-hot 36-8 run. No tears were falling now.
One quarter away from redemption and a championship, Ateneo its best to come back from an unlikely 13-point deficit. They almost did, as Aaron Black sank a trey cutting the Archers’ lead to 4, 74-70. However, Rivero and crew promptly ran back away with the game, and for good. La Salle had successfully forced a do-or-die Game 3 with a 92-83 victory.
Hanging on one last foul to give, Rivero went on to score 12 of his 18 points in the 2nd half on a 5/7 shooting clip and 2/2 from the line.
However, at least according to the man himself, Ricci Rivero never came back to the game after that 4th foul.
“[In] the 2nd half, it wasn’t me who played,” he said. “It was God. The whole time na nasa bench ako, I was praying lang na parang Siya yung gumawa ng turning point para manalo kami at makatulong ako and siguro magawa ko ‘yung gusto ni coach in a good way.” (“The whole time I was on the bench, I was just praying that He make that turning point for us to win and for me to help so I can do what coach wants in a good way.”
“I offered everything talaga kay God,” he added. “Sabi ko, kung anong mangyayari sa 2nd half or what, negative man or positive, ite-take ko siya as [a] positive thing kasi I prayed for it na God’s will ‘yung mangyari.” (“I really offered everything to God. I said, whatever happens in the 2nd half or what, whether negative or positive, I’d take it as a positive thing because I prayed for it that God’s will would happen.”)
Divine intervention aside, La Salle has officially erased Ateneo’s huge advantage and is now also one win away from repeating as champions. God willing, the promised land will surely be reached on Sunday, December 3, at the Araneta Coliseum. The only question left now is who reaches it first.
As the old Filipino proverb goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa.” (“God gives mercy to those who help themselves.” – Rappler.com