MANILA, OCTOBER 1, 2003 (MALAYA) By MARIVIC AWITAN  - Rowdy fans and former players rendered a bad mix of blue and green at the stands as fights marred the match between archrivals Ateneo and La Salle anew yesterday.

But it was on the hardcourt where the real battle was fought and the rough but prayerful Blue Eagles took the spotlight, advancing to the finals of the 66th UAAP seniors basketball tournament with a 74-68 win over the Green Archers at the Araneta Coliseum.

Forward Larry Fonacier seemed undisturbed when a commotion among spectators erupted behind the Ateneo bench as he scored six of the Blue Eagles' last seven points, including four pressure-packed free throws in the last 20 seconds, as the defending champions secured their third straight finals appearance, this time against the Far Eastern U Tamaraws.

During that stretch, players in the Ateneo bench stood still, reciting the rosary as action on the court heated up. Their prayers were answered, enabling Ateneo to bounce back from a stunning 76-72 overtime win by the Archers last Thursday.

The Tamaraws secured the first finals with a 67-63 win over University of the East. Game 1 of the best-of-three title showdown begins tomorrow at the Araneta Coliseum.

"I'm glad it's all over," said Ateneo coach Joel Banal. "Now we can concentrate on our next mission against FEU."

The fight-marred game last Thursday resulted in the suspension of key personnel from both sides including Ateneo guard LA Tenorio and the postponement of the rubber-match originally scheduled last Saturday.

But yesterday's scene was worse, with a riot among supporters of both schools leaving several former Ateneo players sporting nasty bruises on the face, including ex-Blue Eagle guard Rainier Sison.

On the court, unusually fierce body contacts also contributed to the heat of the match.

Magnum Membrere whacked hard a driving Joseph Yeo, Jerwin Gaco and Alvarez engaged in a verbal spat and Yeo and Wesley Gonzales pushed and shoved each other during one deadball situation.

Fonacier, however, stayed focused and composed, delivering the crucial baskets to ward off La Salle's attack down the stretch, the last a three-pointer by Yeo which trimmed the Ateneo lead to 68-71 with 13 ticks left.

At halftime, a scuffle almost broke out between La Salle's Mark Cardona, who didn't see action, and Rich Alvarez. The two engaged in a verbal tussle while both teams were on their way to the dugout.

Witnesses said it began when Cardona bumped off Alvarez, triggering an ugly exchange of words between the two. The situation worsened when bottles of water were thrown from behind by players and supporters of both ballclubs.

Bugia earlier joined hands with Rich Alvarez and Fonacier to score 31 in the first two quarters to power the defending champions to a 44-33 lead at the half.

The scores:

Ateneo 74 - Fonacier 20, Buguia 17, Escalona 12, Alvarez 12, Kramer 8, Intal 1, Membrere 1, Tiu 0, Gonzales 0.

La Salle 68 - Yeo 26, Gaco 16, Benitez 9, Cabatu 8, Casio 4, Gatchalian 2, Sharma 2, Ramos 1, Aquino 0, Tang 0.

Quarterscores: 21-21; 44-33; 58-55; 74-68.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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