The UST Growling Tigers' Final Four hopes grew dimmer after their 83-96 defeat against the Adamson Falcons on Wednesday.
The Tigers had a slim one-point advantage at halftime, 40-39, which could have bode well for them considering they were previously 5-0 when they were ahead after two quarters. But things took an unfortunate turn for them as the Falcons opened the third period on a blistering 15-0 blast that saw the Tigers reeling for the remainder of the contest.
"It's the little things, that's what we couldn't execute in the second half, especially the press break," explained UST coach Aldin Ayo on what transpired. "It was a bad start in the third quarter, that's when we fell behind."
The Tigers finished the game on a 31 percent shooting clip while allowing the Falcons to shoot an efficient 46 percent. Adamson, who secured a Final Four berth with the win, had a 53-35 rebounding edge and capitalized on UST's errors, scoring 20 points off of turnovers.
"We tried to catch up but the players didn't have anything left. I couldn't get anything from the bench," Ayo said in Filipino. "I couldn't rotate my second group because they weren't as ready to play."
"But you have to commend the effort of the players. They did their best, they tried to catch up but they fell short, especially those who got tired, they couldn't sustain what we wanted to do," he added.
What also didn't help the Tigers' cause was the fouling out of two of their big men, Germy Mahinay and Enrique Caunan. Worse, rookie standout CJ Cansino was sidelined with a late ankle sprain, forcing him to miss a significant time in the fourth quarter. After suffering their second straight setback, the Tigers are now 5-7, good for sixth place in the standings behind the UP Fighting Maroons (6-6) and FEU Tamaraws (6-6). However, Ayo is more concerned with how his team is developing in their first year of rebuilding.
"To tell you honestly, we talked about, but I'll be consistent with that - we're not overly concerned with our spot, or where we are [in the standings], if we enter the Final Four or not," said Ayo, who took the head coaching job in UST this season with a revamped roster.
"This is a long program but we're trying to squeeze everything because everything we achieve now, we're going to carry that into the next seasons. If we get in, then that's already a bonus. If not, we'll just be grateful with whatever lessons we got. But for sure we're going to compete and we're going to do our best."
Ayo has been consistent all season long in his principle that his first year is about focusing on the development of his players. He is more concerned with how his team is understanding the system and playing the game to his standards. This season, the Tigers have shown instances of how dangerous they can be in the years ahead.
The road to the Final Four will be an arduous one for the Tigers as they will have to face the Fighting Maroons, who are also hoping to clinch a postseason berth, as well as the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles in their final elimination round game.
"Of course there's always the pressure to win every game. There's a pressure in whether we enter the Final Four or not, but we're just focusing on each game, the one that's right in front of us. That's it," Ayo stressed. "We don't really think about what's ahead. One game at a time. We make sure that we give it our all."