THE short break between the step-ladder semifinals and the Finals may really have some effects on University of Santo Tomas’ game last Saturday.
While the Ateneo Blue Eagles had 16 days of rest, with their preparation followed to the letter, the Growling Tigers had only two days to prepare in their bid to end the defending two-time champions’ domination.
Game 1 of the best-of-3 series had been expected to be close, but what the fans saw instead were the Blue Eagles ugly routing the Tigers on the way to a 91-77 win last Saturday.
As a result, Ateneo is now a win away from its 11th crown.
Although convinced some players did not play their usual game, coach Aldin Ayo nonetheless took all the blame after the game.
“Some players did not play their usual game. But I think the problem is the coaching staff,” said Ayo.
“Tingin ko we were not able to prepare them well. There were situations na hindi namin nadaanan sa practice so, on our part, we just want to be patient,” he added.
The Tigers fell behind early, 4-20, before Mark Nonoy showed up and helped the España-based dribblers cut the deficit to 38-41 in the second period.
Showing discipline at both ends of the floor, Ateneo regrouped and led by as many as 23 points to become the first team to win 15 straight games in the season.
UST, which was facing elimination for the fourth time this season, hurdled Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines in the step-ladder semifinals to make championship round for the first time since 2015.
Ayo is fully aware the championship round is a different story, more so if you are up against the Eagles who are armed with vast experience.
“It won’t matter because it depends kung sino kalaban mo. You cannot compare other elimination games because it’s different. Walang basehan yun,” said Ayo.
Tab Baldwin meanwhile has remained cautious of the situation despite the big victory in the series opener, saying their opponents are not down and out, and that he said he is expecting a different Tigers team to show up on Tuesday.
“I think UST was so persistent. You saw that. You saw how hard they keep coming at us,” said Baldwin.
“First off, gusto ko lang sabihin it was a very tough game by UST. We knew that they’re gonna run us out but the amount of energy that they had after playing a couple of knockout games is tremendous. Nothing but praise for UST as well,” said graduating Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena, who had 32 points in the series opener.
You can say na kahit may comfortable lead kami hindi pa rin namin ma feel na comfortable siya kasi nakikita na sobrang bilis ng scoring UST, bilis ng transition. Lalo na si Mark (Nonoy). Mark really did a good job,” he added.