FORTUNES CHANGE FOR ARCH-RIVALS

MANILA, September 30, 2003 (STAR) By Dante Navarro  - One game. The Ateneo-La Salle Final Four match boils down to one game but with the drastic turn of events, the feuding teams found themselves facing a reversal of roles with the Archers apparently having the edge.

Thatís the way it is when a twice-to-beat team loses the first game and thanks to that rousing although fight-marred 76-72 overtime victory last Thursday, La Salle now has the momentum Ateneo once enjoyed at the start of their duel.

And with Ateneo ace guard LA Tenorio out of todayís do-or-die and La Salle main man Mark Cardona back in harness, odds are stacked on the Archersí side when these arch-rivals meet for the right to face the Far Eastern U Tams for the crown in their keenly-awaited 3 p.m. encounter at the Araneta Coliseum.

For the Archers and the Eagles, this is the moment of truth.

And that makes this match doubly interesting. Unlike in their past championship clashes where they vied for prestige and the crown, this sudden death is a virtual fight for survival.

The match is again expected to polarize the nation, perhaps a welcome respite from those nonsense showbiz and political brouhahas. At least, the Ateneo-La Salle duel is sure to have the trimmings of a pulsating, suspense-filled drama, not to mention non-stop action as proved by the last tumultuous encounter.

For the Archers, itís the day of reckoning. The Blue Eagles, on the other hand, want redemption.

"Without Tenorio, the more theyíll play hard," said La Salle coach Franz Pumaren, refusing to be swayed by the general sentiment that the Archers now have the advantage.

"These factors have little effect," added Pumaren, referring to the absence of Tenorio and the possible return of Cardona. "Itís all about playing as a team. Tenorio is just one player and so is Mark Cardona."

But missing an ace player and being able to utilize its main man are two different things.

Tenorio was suspended for triggering that ugly incident when he hit La Salleís rookie center Jerwin Gaco in the ribcage after losing the ball in front of the Ateneo bench with 1.31 left in regulation. In retaliation, the 6-foot-5 Gaco nudged Tenorio, sparking the melee that saw almost the entire La Salle team storm into the court.

Cardona, who suffered a high-grade left ankle sprain in the Archersí final elimination round game versus the Warriors, did not see action Thursday but did rejoin his teammates in their last practice and is expected to suit up today.

Ateneo coach Joel Banal decided to stay out of reach of the media, opting to concentrate on the task at hand, a move that further underscored the tremendous pressure that the talented mentor has in his hands.

But despite Tenorioís absence, the Eagles boast of such too many talented players ready to step up, including Rich Alvarez, Wesley Gonzales, Magnum Membrere, Ramon Bugia and Larry Fonacier.

Meanwhile, Ateneo yesterday stressed it is abiding by the UAAP board decision denying its appeal for a replay of the controversial Ateneo-De La Salle semifinal game last Thursday.

"As a member of the league of good standing, Ateneo is abiding by the decision of the UAAP board," said Simon Mossesgeld, team manager of the Blue Eagles.

"In this regard," Mossesgeld added, "we [Ateneo] have advised our players and coaching staff to refrain from making further statements on the issue."

Ateneo, however, said that it would pursue discussion on the issue with the UAAP board "after the present season."

"We are pursuing this [issue] in the overall interest of the league," added Mossesgeld.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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