STRUGGLING on both ends for most of the first half, Ateneo was in need of a spark to shake off whatever rust the team had following a 12-day break.
With a little over three minutes remaining in the half and the Blue Eaglets still trailing National University by double digits, that spark finally came in the form of Kai Sotto.
The towering teenager came up with a dazzling defensive sequence, chasing down NU guard Terrence Fortea for a big block before pulling off another emphatic rejection against Winderlich Coyoca.
That play sparked a blistering 35-5 rally that keyed the Blue Eaglets' 86-70 win over the Bullpups in Game One of the UAAP Finals on Friday, leaving the 7-2 prodigy so pumped up he asked the Ateneo crowd to turn up the volume in a rare show of emotion.
“Nilalabas ko lang yung emotion ko,” said Sotto after the match.
“Excited kasi ako, nilalabas ko lang para mawala yung ganun kasi baka kung anong gawin kong mali,” he added.
That play was the highlight of a historic game that saw the Gilas Pilipinas prospect finish with a triple-double that came as the first of its kind with 22 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks.
His head coach in Joe Silva never really doubted what Sotto can do.
After coasting near the end of the elimination round, Silva said that Sotto personally reached out to him, telling his head coach to expect a different player in the Finals.
“Actually, he’s been sub-par, maybe because he’s not in shape pero me and Kai, we have a personal relationship. I text him, he texts me,” said Silva.
“Sabi niya ‘Coach abangan niyo, eto na. Makikita niyo yung totong Kai Sotto.’ True enough he proved to be a man of his word,” Silva added.
Under the microscope for the past few months due to his sheer potential and playing his first nationally televised game in an Ateneo uniform, it won’t be a surprise if the 15-year old is feeling the pressure.
But Sotto showed that he’s up to the challenge, responding with an amazing individual performance and proving that he’s ready to live up to the high expectationsthat comes with his potential.
“Yung mindset ko before the game, tanggal na yung kaba, yung takot kasi araw-araw kaming nagpa-practice, bakit pa kami kakabahan?” Sotto said.