Non-calls fuel Ayo, spark La Salle’s endgame run


De La Salle University head coach Aldin Ayo sheds his jacket in frustration. Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines – A pair of missed calls by the referees turned out to be the spark that De La Salle University needed to fuel the Green Archers to victory over their archrivals, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.

The defending champions found themselves trailing, 76-69, with 2:24 left to play, after Ateneo’s Vince Tolentino scored off a pass by center Chibueze Ikeh.

Yet the sequence that led to that bucket was questionable. Ateneo guard Anton Asistio appeared to have gotten away with a traveling violation, and Matt Nieto similarly escaped being called from a backing violation.

On the sidelines, La Salle coach Aldin Ayo fumed. He shrugged off the stylish Ralph Lauren jacket that he wore all throughout the game, and threw it near their bench. Yet the frustration that Ayo exhibited only masked how the gears in his brain were turning, as he mapped out how the Green Archers would play in the final minutes of the ball game.

Ayo called for a timeout after Tolentino’s bucket, and after that, it was all La Salle. Abu Tratter drew a foul and knocked down two free throws, Ben Mbala wriggled free for a lay-up, Ricci Rivero added two more charities, and Kib Montalbo spun to the lane for a floater

By the time the dust settled, La Salle had seized a 77-76 lead, and Ateneo had no answer for the defense that the Green Archers threw at them.

As he has done before, Ayo channeled his frustration and anger into making the right calls for his team.

“Actually, personally, anger or hatred, it fuels my adrenaline and it helps me in making the right decisions,” Ayo later explained after La Salle completed a come-from-behind 79-76 victory over Ateneo.

“I always thrive in anger and hatred. I’ve always been there. My players can say that,” he added. “Ganyan ako lumaki.”

It did not escape the notice of basketball fans, including Smart Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes.

Ayo refused to say what instructions he gave to his players in that pivotal timeout following his jacket-shedding sideline moment. “It’s for the other coaches to find out,” he said.

He did not hold back in complimenting his players, however, who followed his instructions to the letter and refused to be distracted by those crucial non-calls.

“They executed the game plan,” Ayo said. “We’re not going to quit. We’re not just going to wait there and allow them to beat us.”

“We’re going to do our part, we’re going to compete, and we’re going to do whatever it takes just to win. In the right way, of course,” he added.

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