MANILA -- Aldin Ayo said he and the rest of the University of Santo Tomas coaching staff are to blame after the team could not sustain its magical UAAP men's basketball playoff run and fell to Ateneo de Manila University, 77-91, in Game 1 of the finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
"We played really bad.... Hindi talaga lumabas yung laro. Sa ganitong situation, coaching yung may pananagutan dyan," Ayo said after the game. "We were not able to prepare them well."
The Blue Eagles, who returned to action after taking a long break as a perk of sweeping the eliminations that gave them outright finals spot, were off to a fiery start, starting the game with an 18-2 run and were on cruise control of a major blowout.
Mark Nonoy tried to carry the fight for the Growling Tigers, burying booming triples to eventually close the gap to just three, 41-38.
But that was all UST can muster as Ateneo regained momentum and won by a wide margin.
Save for Nonoy's career-high 26 points, his fellow Tigers struggled all game long.
Brent Paraiso, the second leading scorer for UST with 14 markers, only made 5-for-13 from the field, although he was 4-for-9 from long range, while Chabi Chabi Yo bled for his 13 points, only making 6-of-13 field goals.
Renzo Subido only had eight points on 3-for-11 shooting, including a dismal 2-for-10 output from three-point range.
However, Ayo, while acknowledging the fact that his players lack the finals experience, still lauded them for the effort.
"[The] finals is a different atmosphere... [but] you can't blame the players.... They did everything that they could," he further said.
With the Growling Tigers now on the brink of ending their Cinderella run on a sour note -- and in the process handing the Blue Eagles the first UAAP men's basketball perfect season since the Tigers did so in 1993 -- Ayo is staying positive.
"We just have to be patient," he quipped.
Game 2 of the best-of-three finals will take place on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay. (PNA)