Starstruck no more: UST on verge of knocking out UP

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 11 2019 04:38 PM | Updated as of Nov 11 2019 09:57 PM

UST's Rhenz Abando celebrates after draining a three-pointer against UP. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – Back in June, coach Aldin Ayo expressed his disappointment at how some of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) players competed against University of the Philippines (UP) in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Tournament.

The Tigers lost to the Fighting Maroons, 89-72, and Ayo lamented how his players appeared "starstruck" and intimidated by some of UP's players.

"I told them to have a sense of pride in what they do. Sinabihan ko 'yung players kanina na karamihan sa atin, galing sa probinsya tapos 'pag naglaro na tayo rito at may nakita tayong medyo maputi, medyo maporma, na-iintimidate na," Ayo said at the time, clearly referring to UP's gaggle of high-profile recruits such as Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero.

"'Pag 'yung mga players na kalaban nila, maraming followers sa Instagram, medyo naii-starstruck e. Dapat 'di ganun," he also said.

Five months later, it is clear that the Growling Tigers got their coach's message, and got over whatever hang-ups they had when playing against the Fighting Maroons.

The Tigers have dominated UP so far in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament, and their 89-69 triumph in last Sunday's stepladder semifinal pushed the second-seeded Maroons to the brink of elimination.

Another win in Wednesday's do-or-die game will propel the Tigers to their first UAAP finals since 2015, where they will play unbeaten Ateneo de Manila University in a best-of-3 series.

"They were able to acclimatize na. ‘Yung mga probinsiyano, nasanay na dito sa Manila, and this kind of situation na the cameras are on and everybody’s watching them," said Ayo of his players.

"Nasanay na eh," he added. "And we guided them na, how to handle these things. Because it’s not only, hindi lang basketball eh."

"We have to keep on reminding them, mold them na paano ma-handle ‘yung mga ganitong sitwasyon."

Though they know they still do not match UP's star power, the Tigers are confident in their system and in their teamwork, and are playing their roles to perfection.

That much was evident in their semifinal game, when UST limited Rivero and Paras into poor shooting performances while getting big games from Rhenz Abando and Soulemane Chabi Yo.

"Noong first round (game) namin (against UP), grabe 'yung preparation namin," noted UST's rookie point guard, Mark Nonoy. "Kasi super team (sila), and very talented."

"So 'yung sa amin lang, panalunin namin as a team. Buo kami," he said.

"Talent-wise, lamang talaga ang UP," acknowledged UST veteran Renzo Subido. "In games like this, 'yung foundation namin, dapat solid as a team."

With the Tigers closing in on a finals appearance, Subido is determined to ensure that there will be no let-up for his team, and that there will be no moments wherein UST will get "starstruck" again.

"I kept telling them na basketball players lang din naman sila," said Subido.

"We just have to keep competing, and sinasabi ko sa kanila na we’ve sacrificed a lot, we’ve worked so hard during the preseason, tapos ibibigay lang natin ‘yung game na ‘to sa kalaban natin?" he added.

"Sabi ko, let’s compete and let’s give our all."

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