MANILA, September 27, 2003 (STAR) By Abac Cordero  - For throwing a punch that triggered an ugly bench-clearing incident last Thursday, Ateneo’s LA Tenorio was slapped a one-game suspension by the UAAP board yesterday and therefore will not be allowed to play in his team’s highly-anticipated knockout match against archrival La Salle on Tuesday at the Araneta Coliseum.

Also slapped one-game suspensions were Ateneo guard Christian del Rosario and coaching staff member Bob Marquicias along with La Salle forward Ryan Araña and assistant team manager Manny Salgado. Like Tenorio, they cannot enter the Big Dome on game day where the winner earns the right to face the FEU Tamaraws in the best-of-three finals starting Oct. 2.

Tenorio punched La Salle’s Jervin Gaco in the ribcage after he lost ball possession in front of the Ateneo bench with 1:31 left in regulation. In retaliation, Gaco nudged the smaller Ateneo pointguard, leading to a bench-clearing incident that saw almost the entire La Salle team storming their opponents’ camp.

During the incident, Araña kicked Ateneo’s Wesley Gonzales from behind while Salgado and Marquicias put on a fighting stance. The referees did not catch Tenorio throwing the punch and instead ejected Araña together with Ateneo’s Magnum Membrere. Salgado yesterday said he was just trying to protect himself during the melee.

Further review of the tape, however, showed that it was Del Rosario, and not Membrere, who was deeply involved in the fight, prompting the UAAP board to rectify the error and suspend the former. Membrere can see action when the two teams meet for the fourth time this season with the Blue Eagles, who won the title last year at the expense of the Green Archers, up, 2-1.

The UAAP board met for more than three hours yesterday in Quezon City and decided to reschedule the knockout match, originally scheduled for today, due to safety and security reasons. The four-day break, the board added, will also help ease the tension between the two camps, particularly its fans that will surely fill the venue to the rafters.

"Emotions are still too high that playing the game (today) might result to the worst scenario. Incidental acts like two players grappling for the ball might result to an ugly scene," said UP Prof. Kiko Diaz, head of the UAAP technical committee who added that the decision to suspend the said players and officials were arrived at unanimously.

"On behalf of the two team officials, it was an uncalled for skirmish – instead of them trying to pacify their players," said Diaz.

The UAAP board also commended coaches Joel Banal of Ateneo and Franz Pumaren of La Salle and team managers Chito Mossesgeld and Terry Capistrano for their explicit attempt to pacify their players and prevent a worse scenario.

The league’s "cooling off" period will also be strictly applied in Tuesday’s game, meaning players and officials, including coaches, can no longer complain to game officials after each timeout or at the end of the first half, regulation period of overtime. The commissioner will only entertain complaints at least 30 minutes after the final buzzer.

Security will also be extra-tight on Tuesday with the UAAP board requesting the Araneta Coliseum management to beef up its security force, specially up in the stands where fighting may erupt anytime during a hotly-contested game.

Policemen, including members of the SWAT team, are also barred from entering the court, especially those with long firearms - whatever the situation may be.

"They admitted that it was a mistake on their part that some policemen entered the court with their long firearms. That was a mistake because anybody can just try to grab these weapons and," said Diaz who briefed mediamen yesterday along with commissioner Joe Lipa.

It took game officials more than 10 minutes to restore order on the court, which had probably close to a hundred persons on it at the height of the commotion. La Salle then went on to force overtime and win the game, 76-72.

The victory against the twice-to-beat Ateneo gave La Salle a chance to make it to the finals and become only the first No. 4 team to beat the No. 1 team ever since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994.

Game One of the best-of-three title series is set Oct. 2 with Game Two slated on Oct. 5. A third game, if necessary, will be played Oct. 11.

With Tenorio out, Ateneo will have difficulty running its offense. He is averaging 28.4 minutes this season with 11.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Araña, for his part, has norms of 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.2 minutes. Del Rosario averages 16 minutes of action per game with five points and 2.1 boards.

With Tenorio out, another thing that will help boost La Salle’s chances is the possible return of main man Marc Cardona who did not see action the last time out due to an ankle injury.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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