Same old formula for UST in do-or-die duel
University of Santo Tomas coach Aldin Ayo admits getting daunted by the prospect of surviving three knockout games in a week just to seize a spot in the finals of UAAP Season 82.
But with the Tigers growing in confidence with every victory, Ayo hopes their dream playoff run continues with a championship berth as UST squares off with University of the Philippines in a sudden-death match in the last phase of the stepladder semifinals Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“We always knew it was going to be hard [to reach the finals] because we will have to go through two really good teams,” said the UST mentor in Filipino. “But for us, the mindset is we can’t be too worried as long as we do our best.”
Game time is at 4 p.m. with the Tigers looking to complete their reversal against the No. 2 Maroons, who have lost all three meetings with UST this season.
The survivor of the knockout game will meet two-time defending champion Ateneo in the best-of-three finals starting Saturday.
Behind rookies Mark Nonoy, Sherwin Concepcion and Rhenz Abando, UST wiped out UP’s twice-to-beat advantage with an 89-69 drubbing on Sunday before a crowd of 17,722 at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ayo’s confidence stems from the way he saw his players grow into their roles over the course of the season.
Nonoy, in particular, was cool and composed in the victory in the series opener, hitting 16 points, including two crucial treys in the fourth quarter, while Concepcion came in and also knocked down big shots just when the Maroons were trying to mount a comeback.
“We’ve been through a couple of do-or-die games already,” said Ayo. “I think our formula is the same. We’re getting our confidence also based on our preparation.”
While the Tigers are on the cusp of a finals appearance after finishing as the No. 4 seed at the end of the elimination round, a season filled with big expectations now hangs in the balance for the Maroons, who seem to be in disarray during this critical time even with their star-studded roster.
But Ayo expects a big fightback from the Maroons, who were able to squeeze out a 20-point performance from Juan Gomez De Liaño in Game 1.
“They’re going to adjust,” Ayo said. “I think they’re going to be physical. That happens in a do-or-die game. So it will be tough for us because they’re going to adjust. It’s up to us to counter that.”
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