MANILA, Philippines -- University of Santo Tomas (UST) head coach Aldin Ayo knew exactly what to do after he realized that his players were feeling too much pressure following their fine start to the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament.
The Growling Tigers had been the toast of the league after their 3-1 start, which included an upset win over last season's runners-up, University of the Philippines, and a slim loss to defending champion Ateneo de Manila University.
But they proceeded to lose three of their next four games, suffering back-to-back defeats to De La Salle University and Ateneo. At 4-4, they found themselves in the middle of the pack at the start of the second round.
"After winning two games and after our loss against Ateneo in the first round, all of a sudden, 'yung expectation tumaas, na dapat, hindi naman," Ayo revealed. "Kasi kumbaga, nag-uumpisa pa lang eh."
Ayo noted that his players became "tight," and the pressure affected even their mood in practices. He knew that the Tigers needed to free themselves of the pressure that they felt, and he knew how that could be done.
"I just told them to lower your expectations sa sarili nila. Tapos sinabihan ko na, well, my term was 'you go home.' You go home," he said.
"Ibig sabihin, you go back to the basic," he explained. "Kasi, all of a sudden, maraming kumakausap sa mga bata eh. Kung sino-sino, may mga sponsorship, at all of a sudden, ganoon eh."
"I told them, you go home. Ibig ko sabihin noon, you go back to the people na andoon sa 'yo noong nag-umpisa ka," he added.
Ayo encouraged his players to talk to their families and friends -- the people who were there for them right from the start. He knew that some of his players were already feeling homesick, so they arranged for their families to visit them in Manila.
"They are homesick, and grabe 'yung pressure. Kulang na lang, pumunta sa 'yo, iiyak sa 'yo na coach parang grabe na 'to. So I advised them, with the help of the managers, na papuntahin dito 'yung mga parents paunti-unti," he said.
This is something that has worked for Ayo before, and he expected it to help his players, too.
"Ako nga, pinapunta ko muna 'yung mga anak ko muna kasi grabe rin eh, hindi rin ako makauwi. So, 'yun lang ang home ko eh, 'yun lang ang nakaka-release sa akin, makita ko ang mga anak ko," he said.
The result was UST's strongest performance since the first round, as they blasted University of the East, 101-73, on Wednesday to return to the win column. It was the highest scoring output of any UAAP team this season, and the biggest winning margin in the league this year.
The Tigers improved to 5-4, putting them in solo third in the league standings and just half a game back of UP for second place.
"We were able to release the pressure," said Ayo. "Sa practice, we were more relaxed, and I told them to go back to having fun while playing, and just enjoy the season. But of course, I told them to be responsible."
As the season progresses, Ayo is hopeful that they can continue to play this way, and he is asking the UST community to help the team make this happen.
"Ako, ang nagme-message sa akin na mga alumni. For sure, ang daming ring nagme-message sa kanila," he said. "It adds pressure."
"So ako, pakiusap ko lang sa Thomasian community, pare, wala kayong masasabi in terms of support and prayers. I know that the whole community is behind us, grabe ang suporta sa amin, especially yung mga alumni, lahat," he said.
"But pakiusap ko lang na, just temper the expectation. Rest assured na we're going to do our best, and lahat ng ginagawa namin, para sa UST."
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