MANILA, September 4, 2003 (MALAYA) By NOLI CORTEZ - Without its top three players, Sta. Lucia Realty doesn't stand a chance against newly-crowned PBA Invitationals champion Alaska, right?


Despite being undermanned, the Realtors leaned on a hot start and a passable finishing kick to beat the Aces 82-78 last night in the Samsung PBA Reinforced Conference at the Philsports Arena.

Former Duke U Blue Devil Nate James turned out to be the true-blooded reinforcement he was touted to be while Paolo Mendoza and Francis Adriano led the Sta. Lucia locals who did more than their share in the wire-to-wire win.

"Ang sarap ng feeling," said Realtors coach Alfrancis Chua. "Lalo pang sumarap dahil ang tinalo namin, katsa-champion lang."

Sta. Lucia played minus Dennis Espino and Kenneth Duremdes. Espino sustained sprained an ankle in practice while Duremdes has been placed on the injury list due to his right calf muscle strain.

Marlou Aquino started the game with a jammed finger but left with a swollen knee after figuring in a looseball scramble in the third period. He was re-inserted late in the quarter, but sat out the fourth.

Despite their absence, however, the Realtors raced to a 39-18 lead early in the second quarter and turned back wave after wave of Alaska rallies the rest of the way.

"Ang gusto lang namin, makadikit. Pero lumamang pa," said Chua.

James, co-captain of Duke's 2001 US NCAA champion team, bucked early foul trouble to notch a game-high 31 points to go with five rebounds. More importantly, he acted as team leader on the court.

The Aces got some lift from Brandon Cablay, whose assist and three-pointer capped a 23-second, 7-0 run that brought Alaska within 78-81 with 50 ticks left.

Cablay then tied up Chito Victolero and won the ensuing jumpball. But Chris Carrawell, who had missed nine charities in his first 12 tries from the line, missed two free throws and a short jumper after Cablay seized the offensive rebound.

That enabled Adriano to wrap up the game for the Realtors with a charity in the last 5.6 seconds.

Still battling at presstime were Coca-Cola and Purefoods.

Adriano backed up James with 18 while Mendoza, stepping up for the Realtors, had 17.

Ali Peek emerged as the Aces' top scorer with 20 while Carrawell was the only other Alaska player in double figure with 17.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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