MANILA, August 22, 2003 (STAR) By Joey Villar  - It took Far Eastern University one big spurt in the first quarter to put away a lethargic National U side, 69-56, yesterday and firm up its hold of the No. 1 spot in the 66th UAAP basketball tournament at the Blue Eagle Gym.

The Tams, with Mark Isip firing 10 points and Caesar Catli tossing in eight, outscored the Bulldogs, 28-6, in the opening period which they used as a springboard to notch their eighth victory against a lone setback.

In contrast, defending champion Ateneo overcame a sputtering start to turn back Adamson, 69-55, to stretch its win run to seven and keep FEU within sight with a 7-2 card.

Wesley Gonzales scored all of his eight points in the first quarter but got involved in an ugly incident after the game when he reportedly slapped Falcon Mark Abadia at the back of the head. The uncalled-for action sparked a verbal tussle between the two as well as coaches Joel Banal of Ateneo and Luigi Trillo of Adamson.

The loss, Adamson’s fifth against four wins, dampened the Final Four bid by the Falcons.

Catli sizzled with four triples to finish with 20 points, including 11 in the first half when he teamed up with the high-leaping Isip in a blistering attack that virtually took the starch out of the Bulldogs.

But the Tams played erratic game in the second half as it turned the ball over 28 times and wound up with 44 errors that translated to 31 turnover points for NU.

In a stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters, the Tams were held scoreless but the Bulldogs failed to convert their shots during that FEU slump before Catli took charge again for the Morayta-based cagers.

The Tams’ game, however, didn’t sit well with coach Coy Banal.

"Ang ganda ng laro namin, ang daming turnovers," said Banal in jest. "Pero, siguro na-pressure ‘yung mga players sa akin. I was trying to raise the bar a little higher. I’m still pushing them even though we’re leading by a mile," he said.

Arwind Santos, the MVP statistical race leader after the first round, struggled for the second game in a row, chipping in only six markers in 23 minutes that he saw action.

NCAA: Knights try to zero in on Final 4 berth The Philippine Star 08/22/2003

Letran shoots for the first of two victories it needs to formalize its stint in the Final Four as it takes on also-ran St. Benilde today in the 79th NCAA basketball tournament at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Pacing the 8-team field with a 7-3 slate, the Knights tangle with the Blazers at 2 p.m., hoping to firm up their hold of the lead and build enough confidence heading into the crucial semifinal phase. St. Benilde is out of it all after absorbing its third loss in 11 outings the last time out.

Ronjay Enrile is expected to spearhead Letran’s bid after drilling in 20 points in the Knights’ 76-65 rout of erstwhile co-leader San Beda last Monday.

Letran coach Louie Alas, however, cautioned his players not to fall into a false sense of security.

"Madalas kong pinapa-alala sa mga bata na huwag mag-kumpiyansa," said Alas. "Mahirap kasing kalaban ang team na alam mong kayang-kaya mo."

San Beda, on the other hand, tackles Perpetual Help at 4 p.m., hoping to join three-peat seeking San Sebastian and resurgent Jose Rizal at second place. Both the Stags and the Bombers have identical 7-4 cards.

The Red Lions are currently tied at No. 4 with the Mapua Cardinals on 6-4 records while the Altas are at far sixth with a 3-7 slate but are still in the semifinal contention.

Perpetual Help is seeking to sweep its last four matches and hope that two of the top five teams do not reach the seven-win mark to force a playoff for the last semis berth.

But Perpetual Help mentor Bai Cristobal knows it’s going to be a tough task.

"It’s hard but at least we’ve got that chance so we might as well take advantage of it," said Cristobal.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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