MANILA—They played three knockout games to return to the UAAP finals after four years, but the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers were haplessly beaten by the defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles.
The dominant form UST had shown against Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines were absent in Game 1 Saturday.
UST faced a Blue Eagles squad rested for 16 days after sweeping the elimination round en route to an automatic finals berth.
While UST head coach Aldin Ayo acknowledged his team was visibly tired because of the stepladder semifinals, he did not want to use it as an excuse to how his ward perform. The Tigers never held the lead and were even down by 23 points at one point.
UST lost 91-77.
"Hindi excuse 'yun, that's not an excuse, because I think my strength and conditioning coach and the PT, they are doing that. Pero 'yung short time na 'yun, di namin alam kung paano," Ayo said.
The España-based squad only had two days to prepare for the championship round after it swept UP Wednesday.
The multi-titled coach said his players used those days to rest so his players' bodies could recover and would have renewed energy against the Blue Eagles.
"Actually, halos hindi na kami nag-ensayo. Viewing na lang and walkthrough, kasi pagod na 'yung mga bata," he added.
Ateneo's longer preparation was evident in the finals opener, kicking off the game with a 12-2 start. The closest UST could get was three points, 41-38, in the second quarter before the Blue Eagles dropped a 13-1 run to end the first half.
But Ayo said he remains optimistic about his team's chances, downplaying the new plays employed by their opponent.
"May mga kaunting adjustments, almost the same movement pero may mga kaunting initiation na binago. So advantage nila 'yun," Ayo added.
UST will try to force a winner-take-all Game 3 when it plays the Blue Eagles anew on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.