MANILA, September 26, 2003 (STAR) By Abac Cordero  - While FEU is already assured of the first finals slot, Ateneo and La Salle will still have to fight it out, literally if needed, for the last time this year.

Bucking the absence of injured main man Marc Cardona, the Green Archers brought down the Blue Eagles, 76-72, in a fight-marred overtime contest last night and forged what is expected to be a highly explosive playoff for the second finals slot in the 66th UAAP season.

Joseph Yeo took the cudgels for Cardona who watched from the bench with an injured ankle. The former Xavier player had his best game as a Green Archer, scoring 31 points on top of six rebounds and two steals.

The playoff will be held on a later date, probably Thursday next week.

Suspensions, however, may be imposed on players or even officials who figured in a bench-clearing incident that erupted with 1:31 left in regulation and the Blue Eagles barely ahead, 65-63. Trouble started when La Salle’s Gerwin Gaco forced a jumpball with Ateneo’s LA Tenorio in front of the Ateneo bench.

Gaco swung an elbow in that play and Tenorio quickly retaliated by sneaking in a punch into the ribcage of the La Salle forward. This triggered a near free-for-all with almost the entire La Salle bench storming the Ateneo camp.

There was a lot of pushing, shoving and taunting, and television replays showed Ateneo’s Wesley Gonzales being kicked from behind while La Salle team manager Manny Salgado nearly came to blows with a member of the Ateneo coaching staff.

Venue security personnel and uniformed policemen, some of them carrying long firearms, trooped to the court to prevent the situation from getting further out of hand.

The game was halted for almost 15 minutes and only resumed after the barker announced the ejections of La Salle’s Ryan Arana for kicking Gonzales and Ateneo’s Magnum Membrere for fighting. Tenorio and Gaco were slapped a double-foul.

The UAAP technical committee will hold an emergency meeting this morning to decide on what action to take. The winner will face FEU in the best-of-three finals. The Tamaraws made it by beating the University of the East Warriors earlier, 67-63.

La Salle coach Franz Pumaren said after the game that Tenorio should be suspended for throwing a punch at his player, and triggering the bench-clearing incident. "There’s been a precedent to this and there should be an automatic suspension once a player throws a punch," he said.

Pumaren, trying to reach the finals with a young team, described the game as a "classic" one.

"The way I look at it, the Lord still wants to watch another Ateneo-La Salle game. If only this were a best-of-five or best-of seven it would have been good for the basketball community or the country, " he said.

Letran back as king of NCAA hoops The Philippine Star 09/26/2003

Steering a team from a sixth-place finish to first in just one year is indeed quite remarkable. And even the man responsible for the big turnaround was downright surprised.

"Honestly, hindi ko ine-expect na ganito kabilis ang pagbabago namin," said Letran coach Louie Alas moments after guiding the Knights to a title-clinching 64-59 victory over the San Sebastian Stags in their winner-take-all match for the NCAA crown at the Astrodome last Wednesday.

In fact, when Alas took back the coaching reins two years ago after a stint in the pro ranks, he gave himself four years to transform the team from a rag-tag squad to a top title contender.

But with proper motivation, hardwork and management support, Alas and the Knights did the unthinkable, foiling the highly-fancied Stags’ three-peat bid and re-staking their claim as the league’s winningest team with 14 titles.

"Basically, hardwork, diligence, perseverance at ang ugali ng mga bata na matuto ng mga dahilan kung bakit kami and ito ngayon," said Alas, who also led the Knights to the 1998 crown before he moved up to the defunct MBA and later to the PBA.

Leading Letran’s dramatic surge was Ronjay Enrile.

From a one-dimensional player, the former NCAA high school MVP played defense like he never did before and was more selective on his shots unlike before when he had the tendency to ballhog.

In the process, Enrile was able to bring out the best from the likes of Boyet Bautista, Aaron Aban, Frederick Rodriguez, Kris Reyes and rookie Jonathan Pinera.

"Ronjay’s maturity this season was just the key to our success," said Alas, named the league’s coach of the year.

Bautista, for one, has been taking the big shots, the biggest came with three minutes left in the season — a running jumper from 20 feet – that knotted the count at 58-all and, more importantly, broke the Knights’ alarming seven-minute silence in the fourth quarter. — Joey Villar

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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