DE LA SALLE Head Coach Aldin Ayo made it clear that he went to the Green Archers camp to bring the title back to Taft.
And after archrival Ateneo de Manila denied them a sweep and an easy route to the best-of-three championship series of Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball, Ayo just downplayed their 71-83 loss to the Blue Eagles on November 5 and it’s juts a minor setback they need to hurdle.
“Gusto rin sana sweep pero hindi namin iniisip ‘yun. Ako, ang pinunta ko rito para sa championship, hindi kung anu-anong achievements,” said Ayo, who left Letran after leading the Knights to a title in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) two seasons ago.
The loss to Ateneo was the Taft-based team’s first after starting the season with 12 straight wins that guaranteed the Green Archers a top spot and the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four round.
Ayo took responsibility of their defeat but saw a silver lining in that loss as it will make La Salle more motivated to play better as the next phase approaches.
“We’re still a team a I think. Mas makakatulong nga sa amin ito [loss] in terms of motivation. Mas mamo-motivate kami. Lahat ng members ng team from the boss to the utility, for sure motivated kami,” Ayo added.
And that will be known when La Salle clashes with defending champion Far Eastern University (FEU) on Saturday in the main game at 4 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Two weeks ago the Green Archers-Tamaraws duel could be labeled as a finals preview but with Ateneo and Adamson University on a roll, the odds are now against FEU, which dropped its last two games.
For Ayo, they will treat the match versus the Tamaraws as like an ordinary game that they need to win though the game has no bearing for them.
“They have almost the same game plan [as Ateneo]. Parehas na parehas. Siguro, patitigasin muna namin ‘yung palagi naming ginagawa. Maglilinis muna kami ng bakuran,” Ayo said.
Leading Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala had his usual double-double against the Blue Eagles with 17 points and 15 rebounds but had seven of the team’s 20 turnovers in a foul-plagued stint on the floor.
“Well, tao lang din naman ‘yun,” said Ayo of his prized Cameroonian center. “Pero kung makikita mo, nandoon pa rin ang effort. One of those days [for Mbala], but you cannot question his effort,” he added.
Mbala is expected to come back strong for the Green Archers and ditto the Tamaraws, who are now tied for No. 2 spot with the Blue Eagles with identical 8-4 win-loss slates.
The Nash Racela-mentored FEU has dropped its last matches, including an ugly 59-74 defeat to Ateneo last Wednesday.
The Blue Eagles could go solo second with a win against the skidding University of Santo Tomas in the first game at 2 p.m. The Growling Tigers of rookie coach Boy Sablan are already eliminated with a 3-10 slate. UST finished runner-up to FEU last season.