Manila, August 9, 2003 (STAR) Perpetual Help unleashed a vicious fourth quarter run as it shocked Jose Rizal, 78-70, yesterday to fan its flickering Final Four hopes in the 79th NCAA basketball tournament at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Rookie Vladimir Joe had a coming out game as he erupted for a personal best 23 points including 11 in the final period that ended the Altasí six-game skid for a 3-6 win-loss slate.

"I know heís capable of playing this big and Iím not surprised that he had a big game today (yesterday)," said UPHR coach Bai Cristobal referring to the 6-foot-4 transferee from Holy Angel University in Angeles City, Pampanga.

With skipper Marcel Cuenco scoreless the whole game, Joe filled the slack with his sleek inside moves that kept the Heavy Bombers at bay.

Despite Joeís heroics, Perpetual Help could not simply pull away as Jose Rizal, a Final Four qualifier last year, kept coming back. ó Joey Villar

Archers face Eagles minus main man? By Joey Villar

The last time these two teams met, Ateneo emerged triumphant in a championship that was like no other, beating La Salle before a tumultuous crowd and ending a 13-year long title drought at the Big Dome.

Six games into the current season, the Blue Eagles are looking good with a 4-2 (win-loss) card ó a Final Four stint well within reach despite losing its main man and a clutch of veterans and despite dropping their first two games.

And that four-game win streak Ateneo hopes to sustain in its keenly-awaited match with La Salle today in what is widely-believed to be another epic encounter between collegiate basketballís two most glamorous teams in the 66th UAAP cage tournament.

What could go the Eaglesí way in the 4 p.m. encounter is the possibility that the Archers, in second behind Far Eastern U with 4-1 mark, might be playing without its top player ó skipper Mark Cardona, who is under disciplinary action for his frequent tardiness in La Salleís previous practice games.

"He has to regain his spot, its team policy that everyone should earn their minutes in practice," La Salle coach Franz Pumaren told The STAR referring to Cardona whom he benched in the teamís 92-95 overtime win over National University last week.

Manny Salgado, one of La Salleís two managers, for his part, also told The STAR that it will be up to the coaching staff whether to suit up Cardona or not.

"The original plan was to bench him (Cardona) the remainder of the first round," said Salgado. "Right now, itís going to be coach Franz Pumarenís call."

As Ateneo and La Salle fight for the second spot, Far Eastern University tries to firm up its hold of the top spot as it shoots for its sixth victory in seven games against lowly University of the Philippines at 2 p.m.

With Cardona a doubtful starter, expect Pumaren to rely more on Joseph Yeo, Tyrone Tang, talented rookie JV Casio and a reliable bench which included Tim Gatchalian and Ryan Arana, who have been filling the void in the absence of their leader.

Also out of La Salle roster is the injured 6-foot-6 Carlo Sharma, who has not attended the teamís practices since he sustained a back sprain 10 days ago.

But Ateneo coach Joel Banal wants his wards to stay focused on the task at hand and not fall into a false sense of security.

"Our main focus is their full-court press and we hope to be ready for it," said Banal. "We also know theyíre going to double us in the blind side and play 1-2-2 defense, weíre ready for that too."

He added: "We may have veterans in the team but their sophomores are playing like veterans too, they can match up well against us so itís going to be a pretty even match-up."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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