The FEU Tamaraws were humbled by a hungrier and more determined UST Growling Tigers squad as they suffered a stunning 76-74 loss on Wednesday.
For head coach Olsen Racela, it all boiled down to hustle and effort.
"We lost the game in the first half. We talked about the hustle points of UST, offensive rebounds, and we did not follow that in the first half," Racela assessed. "They had too much offensive rebounding, they go to the loose balls, we don't, and that gave them the confidence."
A Final Four participant last season, the Tamaraws were caught off-guard by the tenacity of the young Tigers. The lackluster effort in the first half spilled over in the second half and was highlighted in the last few moments of the contest. After Germy Mahinay missed on his shot, it was rookie CJ Cansino who beat everyone for the offensive rebound, which eventually led to a gutsy drive by Kenneth Zamora that pushed UST's lead to five points with under 20 seconds remaining.
"I know all Aldin Ayo-coached teams really work hard. For them, it's all about putting in the effort because of their press, the way they attack the basket, the way they get offensive rebounds," the coach went on. "We had a lot of breakdowns on defense, lots of penetrations which resulted in a lot of drop passes, kick out, so that's what we tried to avoid but like I said in the first half, that's where we lost."
The Tamaraws were coming off an impressive outing against the La Salle last Sunday, their first win in two years. On Wednesday, Aldin Ayo returned the favor by giving UST its first victory FEU since Season 78.
"With La Salle, we haven't won in two years, now it happened to us. That's the UAAP for you. Every game you just have to be ready. If you don't, this is going to happen," quipped Racela.
Prince Orizu, who scored a career-high 25 points to go along with 15 rebounds, echoed the sentiments of his head coach.
"We just we want to stick together no matter what happens so that's the most important thing even more than a win or a loss," Orizu shared. "We try to stick together so for us this is a big lesson: learn that no team is easy in the UAAP. So we have to treat every game like it's a finals game or a final four."
If the Tamaraws lacked the drive and effort against a young team like the Tigers, they will have to bring their A-game as they face the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles on Saturday.
"We're going back to the drawing board and then the difficult thing about this is we have to turn around and then play Ateneo. But that's just the way it is," said Racela.