MANILA, July 15, 2004
By Joey Villar  -  Host Perpetual Help’s fighting Altas showed a lot of heart in the absence of their mentors to turn back the Mapua Cardinals, 98-88, yesterday and grab solo lead in the 80th NCAA basketball tournament at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Dom Javier torched the opposition with 31 points including seven in the fourth quarter that catapulted the Altas from a share of second spot with defending champion Letran Knights to the No. 1 spot with a 4-1 (win-loss) slate.

And Perpetual Help did it minus coach Arturo "Bai" Cristobal and assistant mentor Art Narvasa, who served out a one-game suspension for their unsportsmanlike conduct in a 75-70 double overtime victory over San Beda Monday.

"Basta gusto maglaro ng mga bata ng maganda dahil inihahandog nila ang game na ito kay coach Bai," said Perpetual interim coach Conrado Pasco, who used to play against Cristobal in the PBA during the early 80s.

Javier also got big help from the frontline duo of Vladimir Joe and Marcel Cuenco, who finished with 20 markers apiece, and rookie Conrad Fritz Bauzon, who chipped in 14 points.

The power trio of Erwin Sta. Maria, Christian Guevarra and Jofferson Gonzales paced Mapua with 22, 16 and 13 markers, respectively, but they were never a factor in the stretch when Perpetual Help unleashed a closing 12-4 run.

With Javier spewing fire from the outside and Joe and Cuenco imposing their will inside, the Altas roared to a 46-29 lead, an advantage trimmed down by the Cardinals to a point, 53-52, before Javier closed out the first half with another triple for a 56-52 cushion.

Sta. Maria, who is back after missing the last season, strung up six unanswered points to cap a 11-4 blast that gave Mapua a 63-60 lead three minutes gone in the third period.

But Javier entered the fray again as he teamed up with Joe to lead the Altas in a heated exchange that saw them regaining the lead, 82-75, early in the final canto.

Mapua cut it down to two points, 82-84, midway in the quarter before Javier, shifting to point guard duties with Khiel Misa and Dean Apor fouling out, drained a pair of jumpers that triggered the run that sealed the win for the host squad.

In the other game, Rob Sanz sizzled with 19 points, the bulk of which coming in decisive runs in the first and third quarter, as Philippine Christian U clobbered Jose Rizal, 72-64, to move up to solo fourth place with a 3-2 record.

It was the Bombers‚ fourth setback against a win.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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