Powerhouse La Salle gave first-year coach Aldin Ayo a fitting birthday present on Saturday when the Green Archers held off a tough University of the Philippines side, 78-72.
The win more importantly helped La Salle zero in on the first Final Four berth in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Ayo however, isn’t fond of making any birthday bash and his 39th birthday seems like another day at the office.
“Actually hindi talaga ako nagse-celebrate ng birthday,” he told sports scribes after emerging from their dugout, following La Salle’s ninth straight victory, assuring them at least of a playoff for a semifinals spot.
“Kasi ‘yung birthday ko palaging may laro, kahit nu’ng naglalaro pa ako. Natataon rin kasi lagi na sa birthday ko, may laro. Tsaka sa pamilya namin, hindi kami nagse-celebrate ng birthday. Nagse-celebrate lang kami ‘pag fiesta, Pasko and New Year.”
The Green Archers, however, surely gave Ayo something to cherish on his special day by overcoming the Fighting Maroons behind the timely return of ace wingman Jeron Teng, another double-double performance from import Ben Mbala and a strong lift from their solid supporting cast.
“Maganda na kasi they’re playing as a team right now. Kung ano ‘yung binabato sa amin, may pang counter kami,” said Ayo, who drew big numbers from the 6-foot-2 Teng (a game-high 21 points) and the 6-foot-7 Mbala (17 markers and 20 rebounds).
La Salle’s repeat win over UP was from an impressive 18-point victory it essayed during their first-round meeting last Sept. 10 and Ayo admitted that’s exactly what he’s been expecting.
“The more we win, the harder it gets because all of them are going to prepare against us,” he stressed. “Maganda ‘yung game plan ng UP, na-distract ‘yung offense namin. They played their A-game also. Everytime na kami ang kalaban, motivated palagi sila. Good thing nu’ng patapos na, nag-execute ang mga bata.”
La Salle’s assistant coach Paulo Sauler, who subbed in for Ayo during the post-match interview, sounded pleased to see the Green Archers get the job done.
“It’s always good to get a ‘W’ on your birthday. It’s a good birthday gift to Coach Aldin,from the team,” he said.
However, Ayo looked more eager to plan ahead of La Salle’s battle against National U in four days’ time instead of making any birthday celebration.
“Titignan ko pa (kung ano ang magiging game plan namin), kaya nga magtatrabaho pa ako,” he said with a big smile. – Jerome Lagunzad
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