MANILA, Philippines—A wave of euphoria swept the black-and-gold side of Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday, after University of Santo Tomas hacked out a thrilling 68-65 triumph over University of the Philippines in their knockout game.
The victory sent the Growling Tigers to the UAAP Season 82 finals, their first time to play for the championship since 2015. It was a tremendous feat for UST, which had been a dark horse at the start of the season and was considered an underdog against the talent-laded Fighting Maroons.
One person, however, tried to temper UST's celebrations: Head coach Aldin Ayo.
"I told the players after the game, well, they were celebrating," said Ayo. "Renzo (Subido) was apologizing because nagse-celebrate."
"Sabi ko sa kanya okay lang, let it all out, tao lang naman," he added.
But afterward, Ayo was all business. He pointed out to his players that as impressive as their feat was, "we haven't achieved anything yet."
"I told them to refocus because hindi pa tapos, hindi pa tapos," he stressed. "Nakita ko lang 'yung celebration ako medyo nag-worry ako ng konti kasi ayaw ko makita ng ganu'ng celebration na mukhang silang nakukunteto. And some of the coaching staff were crying, even my wife was crying."
"I told her, sabi ko, Mommy wala pa tayo na-achieve, so we have to refocus and prepare for our next game," Ayo added.
The next game, of course, is Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals against the Ateneo Blue Eagles, a team that has won all 14 of its games so far in Season 82.
His players immediately got Ayo's message. Rhenz Abando, who had 11 points in the victory, said after the game that he just felt "OK" after the final buzzer.
"OK lang para sa akin, hindi naman 'yung sobrang saya kasi parang ayaw ko naman maging sobrang masaya," said the high-flying swingman.
"May Ateneo pa," he pointed out. "Parang ayaw kong maging masaya, ayaw kong mag-celebrate. Kailangan lang, focus na lang ulit sa next game, sa Ateneo."
Ayo acknowledged that his team has no plans yet for the finals, as all of its energy were concentrated on the Fighting Maroons. Their work will start immediately, however, as soon as they disband for the night following their customary team dinner.
"Usap-usap kami, and nanalo," he said. "So medyo maganda usapan. But after our dinner we're going to focus our attention on Ateneo and we have to do it in 48 hours, two days only."
UST is one of the few teams to have given Ateneo a scare in Season 82. The Blue Eagles managed just a 71-70 triumph in their first round encounter, before the Blue Eagles won their rematch, 66-52.
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