Nueva Ecija showed its might while Valenzuela continued its climb in the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) fourth season on Monday at the Bahayang Pag-Asa Sports Complex in Valenzuela City.
Living up to pre-season predictions that it’s going to be the team to beat, the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards routed the Mindoro Tamaraws, 98-68, in the opener.
Valenzuela XUR Homes Realty Inc. followed suit with a 66-48 drubbing of undermanned Marikina in the nightcap.
It was the third straight victory for Valenzuela after yielding to Sarangani (77-73) in the April 25 season-opener in Batangas City.
Boasting a star-studded roster, Nueva Ecija took some time to find its rhythm, settling for a 39-37 halftime lead over Mindoro.
But once the Rice Vanguards got their offense going, the Tamaraws couldn’t respond and trailed by as many as 34 points (98-64) en route to their third straight defeat.
John Bryon Villarias led Nueva Ecija with 22 points and 6 rebounds, followed by Michael Mabulac and Michael Juico with 13 points and 9 rebounds each.
Homegrown Bobby Balucanag added 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Pamboy Raymundo chipped in 11 points and 4 rebounds for Nueva Ecija, now being mentored by multi-titled Jerson Cabiltes.
With Balucanag, Mabulac, Juico and Taganas crashing the boards, the Rice Vanguards posted a huge 72-45 edge in rebounds that they converted to 34 second-chance points against only 8 for the Tamaraws.
Daniel Bayla tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds for Mindoro, but no other Tamaraw was able to score twin digits.
Top gunner Rodel Vaygan was held to 6 points while former Ginebra guard Tey Teodoro could only contribute 4 points and 4 rebounds.
The MPBL holds a doubleheader at the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga for the first time on Tuesday. Zamboanga, which carries a 1-0 card, clashes with Makati (1-1) at 7 p.m. while debuting Pampanga tackles Manila (0-1) at 9 p.m.