By Kristel Satumbaga

University of Santo Tomas may have eclipsed last season’s performance in UAAP men’s basketball, but coach Aldin Ayo said it hurts to come this close to winning the title only to fall short.

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UST head coach Aldin Ayo reacts after the UST Growling Tigers yielded to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 82 Finals at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, November 20, 2019. (MB Photo / Rio Deluvio)

The Tigers yielded to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the best-of-three finals, bowing 91-77 in Game 1 and 86-79 in Game 2.

It was a far cry from their sixth place finish last season, where they barely made it to the Final Four with a 5-9 record. But the pain lingers.

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UST graduating player Renzo Subido reacts after the UST Growling Tigers yielded to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 82 Finals at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, November 20, 2019. (MB Photo / Rio Deluvio)

“In a way (we overachieved), but I told the kids na it is more painful to lose in the finals than not making it to the Final Four,” Ayo said.

“I told them na dumating na kami dito sa finals, we need to make sure that we are up to it. Mas masakit ito.”

The title defeat, however, was something that Ayo would like his players to treasure. The finals experience – the school’s first since 2015 – opened doors to improvement for him, his coaching staff and his players composed mostly of rookies.

“Ito yung sakit na for sure matututo kami,” he said. “Next season, madadala namin yung experience na to kasi kung ano yung mga kulang namin ngayon, yun yung tatrabahuhin namin.”

Ayo is hopeful they will thrive in the future, and credited Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin’s presence in the league for challenging local mentors like him.

“Meron siyang (Baldwin) spot na nakuha na coach but lots of coaches here in the Philippines are learning from him,” he said.

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Ateneo’s Thirdy Ravena, right, consoles UST’s Rhenz Abando after the Growling Tigers yielded to the Blue Eagles in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 82 Finals at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, November 20, 2019. (MB Photo / Rio Deluvio)

“Like yung approach sa laro. The x and o’s. Ang dami mong natututunan eh. Because every time you compete (against him and his team), nakikita mo yung ginagawa niya. And every time, natututo ka.”

The Tigers may be licking their wounds now, but Ayo knows they will be back with a louder growl.

“We always want to improve. Our mindset is, even if we made it here (in the finals), madami pa kaming kulang at dapat trabahuin. We’ll make sure that we’ll learn from this,” he said.

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