UST head coach Aldin Ayo reminded his players not to succumb to the rising pressure and expectations stemming from the team's impressive start to Season 82.
The Growling Tigers went under the radar in the offseason but they immediately made a statement in their lopsided victories over UE and UP. They lost their third game at the hands of Ateneo but they only fell short by a single point. Up to now, they remain the only team that managed to push the defending champions to the limit.
"You can feel that the pressure got to the kids and they actually became tight," said Ayo. "Even the mood in practice, they became too focused, which should have been okay, but their approach to the game got affected. I just told them to lower their expectations on themselves."
Ayo admitted that the high expectations from the UST community sometimes get too overwhelming for his team, especially for young players who are still adjusting to the bright lights of the UAAP.
"The expectations of the whole community suddenly increased," said Ayo. "We have young kids, we have nine rookies. We all want them to be consistent, but they're still young, and sometimes it also affects them."
Ayo noted that his players from the province, in particular, are struggling with the added pressure, knowing that they are battling homesickness at the same time. Coming from the province himself, Ayo knows how difficult it is to be away from family, so he suggested to the team managers to help bring the kids' parents to Manila.
"I told them to go home. You go home, which means you go back to the basic," said Ayo. "Go back to the people who were already there when you were starting. Go home, talk to your families, talk to your friends, talk to your loved ones. That was our approach."
The Tigers successfully arrested a two-game slide with a dominant 101-73 rout of UE on Wednesday. Ayo knows, however, that they still have a long way to go to secure a slot in the playoffs.
"A lot has happened to the standings, to our chances to make the Final Four," said Ayo. "You cannot discount any team this season because all the teams are competitive. They have the materials, they have the players. Sometimes, it boils down to overtime and close games. You're not allowed to blink."
"I told the team to never mind the standings, just mind our games," Ayo continued. "At the end of the day, we should play and we should win. We're still in charge of our fate in terms of making the Final Four."
Ayo and the entire team feel grateful for the support of the Thomasian faithful. In return, they vow to continue fighting until they reach their goal. So far, they are in a good position with five wins and four losses, lurking behind the second-seeded UP (5-3).
"I know that the whole community is behind us. The alumni's support is great, but my only request is to taper the expectations," said Ayo. "Rest assured that we are going to do our best and we're going forward. We're doing everything for UST."