More than size, athleticism, and pure talent, an underrated value in basketball that’s as important as those three is time. There are only 40 minutes played in a basketball game in the UAAP. Yet within those 40 minutes, there are millions of possibilities that could happen, with all of them connected with one another. One event dominoes to another. It’s never possible to predict all of these. The least you can do is be prepared for what may come and to maximize the time you are dealt with.

On October 23, 2019, the UST Growling Tigers were facing a precarious situation. With less than 40 seconds left in regulation, the score read 80-71 favoring the De La Salle Green Archers. They had lost seven straight games to La Salle, dating back to Season 79. It looked like they were about to face their eighth straight defeat against their tormentors. But more than mere records between match-ups, a loss meant a tougher road to the number two seed for UST. A lot was at stake.

After an Aljun Melecio miss, the Growling Tigers rushed back to their side of the court and whipped the ball to Rhenz Abando. With zero hesitation he pulled up from three to cut the lead down to six with 28 seconds left on the clock. Time left was few. Yet possibilities remained aplenty. After all, bilog ang bola. 

Suddenly, the ball game turned into a blur. One Caracut turnover and an Abando three the next and the score was suddenly down to three points. One possession game. UST just needed one more stop and three-pointer to force overtime.

First box, check. UST forced Andrei Caracut into another turnover with Rhenz Abando completing the steal. Good start. But they needed to finish the job and make a three.

Rhenz uses his left foot to stop. His momentum is still aplenty but he’s able to find balance once he plants his right foot. He elevates, no hesitation, with the game on the line. 

Swish. The Araneta Coliseum goes bananas. UST just checked the second box and the score now read 80 all with overtime seemingly looming.

Or so they thought.

It turns out the momentum from the run caused Abando to plant his foot on the three-point line.  His shot was deemed as a two. There were only 2 seconds left on the clock. 2 seconds to get a stop and run all the way to the other side of the court with the hopes of getting a basket. 

Time presents plenty of possibilities, but it is also finite. This was proof of it, as La Salle wasted away the time to run away with the win. UST had lost. This wasn’t only their eighth straight loss against the Green Archers. It was also a loss which put their second seed hopes in grave danger.

“Hindi pa tamang oras para matalo namin yung mga yun,” said Coach Aldin Ayo after the game. There was a feeling of regret to how he said that, but there was also a sense of hope. Time is a paradox in that sense; while it can be limited and narrow, it can also feel limitless and wide. 

You can’t control time. You feel this the most in tight situations, like how the Growling Tigers experienced it during that 40 second span versus La Salle. But what you can control is what YOU do with that time. You feel that the most when there is space given to you. 

That’s exactly what UST got right after they beat Adamson on October 27, 2019; an opportunity to rest and recover from the grind of the season. They had a 10 day break before their next game, so it wasn’t surprising to see the entire team immediately trooped to a resort to get their minds out of basketball. Brent Paraiso, Rhenz Abando, and even Soulemane Chabi Yo tried the craziest of tricks with the bikes and karts they were riding. CJ Cansino celebrated his 20th birthday with his teammates. 

From running fast breaks and pressuring defenses, suddenly the Growling Tigers looked like they could be in peace. It was an unusual sight. But for Coach Aldin, it was needed, especially for the challenges that they had ahead of them.

“It was big because we were able to rest physically and mentally,” said Ayo. Rest. It wasn’t simply to have fun or to forget about the task at hand. The cycling and the celebrations weren’t all for naught. There was purpose to what UST was doing. They were making the most out of the time being given to them because after recovery came the return of the grind. Number one on their list of priorities: preparation.

The Growling Tigers got back to the drawing board and studied tape to fix the holes within their system. To be fair to UST, it’s not like Coach Aldin expected them to be a perfect basketball team before the start of the season. “These players are newcomers and we were praying during the season that as the season progresses, we were hoping they would mature,” said Ayo. He understood the context his team was in. They’re young, with plenty of newcomers only in their first season of UAAP action. He welcomed mistakes, so much so that he knew these would be key in the maturation of his basketball team.

“Talking about winning and losing, you’re going to learn more every time you lose eh,” said Coach Aldin. They had six opportunities to learn this season, to be specific. Lessons are always great, but applying these are even better. Moral victories wouldn’t cut it anymore for UST. “But you can’t afford that, because this is a do or die.” 

On November 6, 2019, they faced their first do or die of the stepladder format: a date with the FEU Tamaraws. In the most UST way possible, they came out blistering shooting threes at a ridiculous rate. By the end of the first half, the score read 54-28 favoring the Growling Tigers. It felt like the game was over right then and there. But UST had no business feeling that way at all.

FEU roared back and UST looked stifled. The Tamaraws defense was incredible, as their guards and wings used their quickness, length, and physicality to pressure UST’s diminutive backcourt. While UST did end up winning 81-71, the sequence of events during the second half would have made any head coach incredibly disappointed in their team. But weirdly enough, Coach Aldin looked calm and collected in the press room after the game.

It wasn’t satisfaction, but it also wasn’t disappointment. Coach Aldin knew something was up. Maybe it was beautiful. It could also be heartbreaking. Possibilities were aplenty for the Growling Tigers. Time gives you that.

JB Mantilla could have been the wrench that ended UST’s Finals hopes. On November 10, 2019, the Growling Tigers were in another do or die, this time with the UP Fighting Maroons. UST started out strong during the first half. But in the blink of an eye, the 17 point lead of the Growling Tigers evaporated to 13 in a matter of seconds. Mantilla provided a spark for them as his defense and quickness slowed down Renzo Subido. Most importantly, the Fighting Maroons looked like they were back in the game with a rejuvenated crowd. 

Things suddenly became tight for the Growling Tigers and that didn’t change for the entire second half. But that wasn’t the only constant UST would have for the last 20 minutes of their game versus UP. 

Coach Aldin Ayo was uncharacteristically calm. He’d talk to his bench every now and then, but what was constant was his relaxed demeanor even when making substitutions. This was most evident with three minutes remaining in the game, with the score at 72-63. It wasn’t a safe lead. UP was gaining momentum. There was a lot of time left, which meant chances for UP to steal this game were aplenty.

Time gives you that; possibilities. It’s not just UP who were given this, but also UST. How would they use the opportunities they were being handed? 

Renzo Subido crossed the ball from the half court line and UST’s action immediately started. The Growling Tigers didn’t run anything special; just a simple series of screens meant to free someone up. But it came in like a blur as a second later, Renzo dished it off to the curling Sherwin in the left wing. Splash. 12 point lead.

On the ensuing play, the Growling Tigers forced a break down of UP’s post action and they immediately made the chase. Nonoy dished it to Subido in the left wing, then Renzo passed it to Nonoy in the left corner. UST was having fun. Splash once again. 15 point lead.

In a 23 second span, UST had turned a narrow situation into their very own moment. Time had cursed them for most of the season. Young team. Inexperience. Tight games. But they’ve flipped the script and turned it into their strength. “This is our 16th game already,” said Coach Aldin Ayo on their game versus UP. “Natuto rin ang mga bata dun. Natututo na.”

16 games. Six heartbreaking losses filled with plenty of lessons. But they’ve used all of those intelligently and the result is a team that’s peaking at the right time. “We were connected out there,” said Coach Aldin. From individuals looking for experience, UST’s turned into one tough group that embraces the pressure that comes with their title aspirations. What’s come out is a team that has a unique sense for the moment; so much so that they’re able to flip the switch in an instant when time calls them to.

You still can’t control time. It still remains as a paradox. Narrow because of its limitations but also so freeing because of the possibilities it gives you. The Growling Tigers have embraced that fact and they have flourished.

#tAYOnaman. The time may just be now for the UST Growling Tigers.