Sweet-shooting La Salle denies late UP comeback, forces do-or-die for UAAP finals berth

Justine Baltazar and the La Salle Green Archers storm out of the gates against the UP Fighting Maroons to force a winner-take-all for a championship berth

MANILA, Philippines – The La Salle Green Archers played the role of spoiler as they blitzed the UP Fighting Maroons, 83-80, to force a UAAP Season 84 Final Four do-or-die match for a finals berth on Wednesday, May 4 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Evan Nelle delivered his best scoring game yet as a Green Archer in the most opportune time, as he finished with a UAAP-high 26 points built off a 5-of-9 clip from three, plus 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals .

La Salle’s graduating center Justine Baltazar – refusing to end his UAAP career on a low note – added a double-double of 15 points and 18 rebounds on top of 3 dimes and 2 blocks in over 34 minutes of floor time.

Coming off a massive win against once-undefeated Ateneo on last Sunday, the Maroons surprisingly trailed the Archers in double figures early before falling short of their fourth-quarter comeback bid.

Both teams are now set for one last match to reach the finals on Friday, May 6, still at the MOA Arena.

La Salle now has a shot to clinch its first finals berth in five years, while UP clings to its hope of making a return trip as well after three seasons.

Malick Diouf left everything on the court in the tough loss, as he finished with a monster double-double of 18 points and 20 rebounds with 3 assists and 3 blocks, while Ricci Rivero suddenly turned into a paint defense beast with an 18-point, 8-board, 5-block, 2-steal line.

“I think the boys really played hard today. We played 40 minutes of solid, disciplined basketball today. That’s what I’ve been asking them to do. It was really a team effort, everybody was on the same page in today’s game, ”said La Salle head coach Derick Pumaren as the Archers try to overcome the No. 2 Maroons’ twice-to-beat advantage.

“We’re happy that we won the ball game, but we only tied the series. There’s still one more game and we have to go back to the drawing board after this. ”

Off a 63-79 deficit midway through the fourth quarter, UP came out nowhere to give La Salle a real scare after Gerry Abadiano capped a 15-2 rally to inch within 78-81 with just 13.4 seconds left.

However, Nelle gave the Archers the thinnest of cushions after splitting his free throws with 12.1 ticks left, and that was all the breathing room La Salle needed to hang on for the win.

Coming off an 11-point halftime lead, 48-37, La Salle then blew UP out of the water with a 13-5 run to start the third quarter, ending with a Nelle three for the 19-point gap, 61-42, at the 5:53 mark.

Although the Archers peaked with a 22-point separation, 66-44, with 2:24 left in the frame, the Maroons squeezed out an 11-0 fightback to slash their deficit in half, 55-66, entering the final frame.

However, Nelle drilled back-to-back triples for a 79-63 La Salle lead with 5:06 left.

The Scores

La Salle 83 – Nelle 26, Baltazar 15, Lojera 11, M. Phillips 7, Austria 7, Winston 7, Nwankwo 4, Nonoy 3, Manuel 3, B. Phillips 0.

UP 80 – Diouf 18, Rivero 18, Lucero 17, Tamayo 8, Abadiano 7, Cagulangan 6, Spencer 3, Alarcon 3, Ramos 0, Fortea 0, Webb 0, Lina 0.

Quarters: 24-16, 48-37, 66-55, 83-80.

– Rappler.com

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