The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles surged to a dream start in Game Two of the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Finals. They were furious, they were methodical, and they were cunning.
With 3:28 left in the second half, Ateneo erected a 49-28 lead. The De La Salle University needed to make a stand.
During a timeout, Green Archers skipper Kib Montalbo asked head coach Aldin Ayo if he could say his piece. Ayo obliged.
“I looked at their faces and they were down,” Montalbo recalled.
“Not to brag about it, sabi ko sa kanila, I’ve been in this position nung 2013, we we’re down 1-0 and yung odds nasa kanila talaga. What I wanted them to do was to believe and want it more.”
A thunderous jam by Ben Mbala, followed by a flurry by Aljun Melecio, helped La Salle cut the lead to just nine, 51-42. With three seconds remaining, Thirdy Ravena was about to inbound the ball. As he went to get the ball, he bumped Montalbo. The 5-foot-9 guard did not flinch.
With his arms wide open, he stood his ground.
Montalbo wanted to show his team that he would not back down.
“Actually, as a captain of this team it all starts with me. If I play tough, they’re gonna play tough. There was no foul, I was just standing there,” the 20-year-old shared. “Si Thirdy we’re friends. It’s just basketball.
“I think we needed that, we need to wake up. We’re down by 20, inch by inch, possession by possession, we’re gonna get there.”
Inspired by their captain, Andrei Caracut, Ricci Rivero, and Ben Mbala followed suit. With 2:43 left in the third frame, they were able to tie the game. Then 32 seconds later, the defending champions were able to gain the lead for good.
As the dust settled, La Salle were able to get back at their arch-rivals, 92-83, sending the game into a winner-take-all tilt.
“Hopefully, pumasok yun sa isip nila yung sinabi ko that’s why we got this win,” added Montalbo, who finished the game with nine points, five assists, and three steals. “I just told them to never give up.
“Whatever the circumstances na bibigay sa atin: down twenty, down thirty, just stick it out as a team.”
Montalbo plans to sustain this intensity come Sunday.
“We worked for ten or eleven months for this tapos tatapon lang namin? No way! We’ll fight until the end!”
And he hopes the rest of the Green Archers follow suit for one last time.