UST head coach Aldin Ayo
A firm response by UST and that Larry Bird-like praise
Rick Olivares ( - October 10, 2019 - 12:01pm

MANILA, Philippines – The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers bounced back from its loss to Ateneo with a massive beatdown of the University of the East, 101-73, in Season 82 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament. 

The triumph helped UST gain solo third place in the standings with a 5-4 record, just a game ahead of 4-4 La Salle. Meanwhile, Far Eastern University and Adamson University were dealt crippling blows also in the day.

FEU lost to National University in overtime, 85-79, while Ateneo held off the Soaring Falcons, 80-74.

The Tigers throttled the Red Warriors from the opening tip behind the hot shooting of Sherwin Concepcion (two triples and a floater in the lane). They displayed the fluidity that marked their first few games of the first round with every UST player getting into the act. 

The Tigers put the clamps on UE’s Rey Suerte, who only squeezed off 10 shots (making three) and going 3-4 on free throws (he averages 14 shots from the field plus seven free throws per game). Suerte finished eight points off his season average. Alex Diakhite did his best to carry the load. But it didn’t bother UST as they posted a lead that went as high as 34 points! His back-to-back turnovers in the second frame didn’t help as UST never let up.

Post-match, UST head coach Aldin Ayo attributed the victory to certain measures he put in place such as management bringing over the families of players to help them cope with the pressure. Ayo cited the expectations heaped upon them as a problem that was good and bad. But with a young team, they struggled to manage the pressure. With family coming over and going back to basics during practice sessions leading up to the UE game, this allowed the team to exhale and breathe.

The result was the most lopsided win of any team this eason.

Leave it to Ayo to figure out something for his team. 

He has been the recipient of a Larry Bird-like pronouncement (when the NBA great said that ‘I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan’ after the latter torched the Boston Celtics for 63 points in a first round play-off game). 

After the Blue Eagles squeaked past the Tigers in the first round, 71-70, the latter’s coach, Tab Baldwin, said the UST tactician “is a blessing for Philippine basketball, and the UAAP.”

It isn’t faint praise. Ayo is the only coach to win consecutive collegiate titles in separate leagues, having won with Letran in 2015 in the NCAA and La Salle in the UAAP the following season. In his first year at UST, his Tigers finished sixth with a 5-9 record. Shedding much of the team he had inherited, he has this squad in contention for a Final Four slot and basketball fans and analysts heaping praise on the team he has put together without the moneyed machine he had in DLSU. 

Ayo’s showing and record and the praise do elevate him. In a very competitive and small circle, how many have such praise heaped on them by peers, analysts and fan alike?

It does help UST in a lot of ways in terms of rebuilding a reputation that has taken a beating in the last several years for so muchon and off-court drama. It could also help in recruiting. 

More than the praise, wins like these restore confidence. 

UE, for its part, is no slouch as they were riding a two-game win streak. If they want to figure for a slot (playoff or otherwise) for the Final Four, they have to win their last five matches which is a tall order. So this was a damaging loss.

When the Red Warriors tried to make a go of it, graduating senior Zach Huang hit a lot of timely buckets (especially after Concepcion’s guns fell silent). Huang finished with 22 points — he scored 14 in the second half of play — to go with five rebounds and one assist. 

This was one game where they simply dominated. They scored more fastbreak points, 16-5, and second chance points, 25-16. They scored 21 turnover points to UE’s 11. Plus, they dunked twice on UE. That means you’re getting inside the lane and they pounded the Red Warriors, 42-34.

It does propel them into this Sunday’s (October 13) match versus reeling FEU. With La Salle taking on undefeated Ateneo and UP going up against UE that needs to win, the Tigers have a chance to climb the tables once more.

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