MANILA, Philippines—A sublime performance from rookie guard Mark Nonoy was far from enough to tow University of Santo Tomas to victory in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball finals on Saturday.
Instead, defending champion Ateneo de Manila University stamped its class on the Growling Tigers, building a big lead in the first quarter, going up by as many as 23 points, before securing a 91-77 triumph to close in on the crown.
Nonoy had 26 points, making 7-of-14 3-pointers in the win. He helped the Tigers come to within three points, 41-38, in the second quarter, but the Blue Eagles pulled away for a 54-39 lead at the half and were never really threatened the rest of the way.
"We played bad, really bad," said UST head coach Aldin Ayo, as he offered no excuses for their performance.
"We were not executing. Some players did not play their usual game."
Nonoy was one of the few Tigers to put up a solid effort. Season 82 MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Brent Paraiso found his stroke late to finish with 14 points.
But Renzo Subido, whose big shot against University of the Philippines propelled them to the finals, shot just 3 of 11 from the field for 8 points. Rhenz Abando did not make a field goal until the final quarter, and had just 3 points on 1-of-5 shooting. CJ Cansino tried to make up for his anemic shooting performance with 13 rebounds and 6 assists.
Ayo made it clear, however, that the players were not at fault for their subpar games.
"I think, the problem is the coaching staff," he admitted. "Tingin ko, we were not able to prepare them well."
"There were situations na hindi namin nadaanan sa practice so, on our part, we just want to be patient," he added. "I told the players that we just have to handle this loss the right way."
"That means going back to the videos and titignan namin kung ano 'yung mali, and we'll try to correct them."
Ayo acknowledged that the Tigers' inexperience on the finals stage was a factor in the defeat, too. Ateneo is making its fourth consecutive finals appearance, while among the UST players, only Zach Huang played major minutes the last time the Growling Tigers reached the championship round in 2015.
Still, Ayo said "you cannot blame the players."
"Kasi, trabaho ng coaching staff 'yan na you try to simulate things," he said. "Sa sa abot ng makakaya namin, we are going to do that."
"'Yung mga players, I think they did everything that they could. Hindi lang lumabas yung mga laro. Sa ganitong situation, coaches palagi 'yung accountable diyan," said Ayo.
The UST coaching staff now has three days to study game tape and prepare for Game 2, where they will try to spoil Ateneo's bid for a perfect campaign and a third consecutive title.
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