For Tigers, it’s not time to celebrate

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    WHO would not want to celebrate? It’s just fine for University of Santo Tomas to bask in glory after it advanced to the Big Dance after four years. But the Growling Tigers should temper their celebrations and set their sights on the biggest prize: the title.

    “We haven’t achieved anything yet. That’s why I told the players after the game, well, they were celebrating and ang sabi ko kay Renzo (Subido), Renzo was apologizing because nagse-celebrate, sabi ko sa kanya okay lang, let it all out, tao lang naman,” said UST coach Aldin Ayo.

    “But I told them to re-focus because hindi pa tapos, hindi pa tapos. Nakita ko iyong celebration and medyo nag-worry ako ng kaunti kasi ayaw kong makakita ng ganoong celebration na mukha silang nakukuntento,” he added.

    The Tigers completed the ouster of the No. 2 University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, who were armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, scoring a nail-biting 68-65 victory last Wednesday in their knockout match in the stepladder semifinals of the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament.

    With the dramatic win, carved out before 18,548 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena, UST forged a best-of-3 finals showdown with defending two-time champion and unbeaten Ateneo.

    Game 1 of the finals is set tomorrow at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

    The Blue Eagles swept the Tigers 2-0 when they last met in the finals seven years ago. It was the last crown of Ateneo’s historic five-peat reign from 2008 to 2012.

    Ayo, who won an NCAA title coaching his alma mater Letran in 2015, and a UAAP crown with La Salle in 2016 before moving to UST last year, said his main goal is to end the Tigers’ 13-year title dry spell and added that his fourth finals stint in the last five years is driven by passion.

    “Of course, we are grateful that we reached this far but this is not our main goal. Talking about my (fourth) finals appearance, well, it’s all about passion, passion sa laro. Walang problema iyong mag-trabaho nang mag-trabaho because I love what I’m doing,” said Ayo.

    “I always tell my coaching staff, si (assistant coach) coach McJour (Luib) hindi pwede na puro passion, although nandoon iyong passion, sabi ko iyong mga bagay na mahihirap kahit walang balik you just have to keep on working hard. And I told coach McJour that if you just put on the work, kahit anong mangyari at least walang regrets.”

    UST wound up dead-last with a dismal 1-13 record in 2017 before Ayo took over from Boy Sablan last season, steering the Tigers to a 5-9 record for sixth.

    The secret to UST’s rise?

    “Siguro ang pinaka-dahilan kung bakit kami umabot sa ganito is grabe iyong trinabaho namin. Grabe ang investment namin dito. We started Nov. 28 last year, actually, while Ateneo was playing against UP in Game 2 of the finals, exactly may laro rin kami. Kalaban naming ang Team B ng NU. When Ateneo won the championship, tinalo kami ng Team B ng NU, ‘di nga kasali sa UAAP. And sinabi ko sa mga bata na grabe tra-trabahuin natin. So nagtrabaho kami nang nagtrabaho,” offered Ayo.

    “Ten of the players spent their Christmas doon sa Sorsogon, walang Christmas break itong mga ito. And tuloy-tuloy. Nagtwi-twice a day practice kami, lahat ng hirap, iyong struggles, iyong distractions, everything. Kung tinatanong niyo kami kung bakit ganoon, well, those are the reasons. Pinaghirapan namin ito.”