MANILA,  September 15, 2004  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - One more win and La Salle is back in the finals. One more loss and Ateneo is out of it all.

Playing better both individually and as a team, the Green Archers whipped the Blue Eagles, 82-69, yesterday to secure the No. 2 spot and a hefty twice-to-beat advantage, also against the Blue Eagles, in the forthcoming Final Four of the 67th UAAP season.

La Salle and Ateneo finished the elimination round tied at 10-4, leading to yesterday’s playoff to determine the No. 2 position. Defending champion Far Eastern University, the No. 1 team, takes on No. 4 University of the East in their own Final Four showdown tomorrow.

Ateneo and La Salle begin theirs on Sunday.

After winning four straight titles under coach Franz Pumaren until 2001, La Salle finished second to Ateneo in 2002 and missed the finals last year. But with yesterday’s victory, actually La Salle’s seventh in a row, the Green Archers clearly have the inside track.

For Ateneo, making it to the finals for the fourth straight year now appears to be a very difficult task in that they have to beat La Salle twice. Ateneo swept the first round but had gone on a skid, losing four of seven games in the second round, and bowing to La Salle for the second time in three meetings this year.

"But the series is not yet over," said Pumaren after the game. "If you play a team like Ateneo, which is always capable of coming back, you can’t relax. Remember, Ateneo won 10 games in the elimination and it’s always capable of winning two games in a row. We have one leg inside (the finals), but we’re not really there yet."

As expected, the game was played before a big crowd. It got off to a fast start, with both teams trading big baskets. It was tight until the second quarter, and the tide started to go La Salle’s way in the third when the Green Archers unleashed a 14-4 run for a 55-38 lead.

With frustration setting in, the Blue Eagles tried to mount a comeback, but as they did, they only made matters worse, falling behind by as many as 19 points, 75-56, with four minutes left in the game.

With only a minute left, Joseph Yeo got into a verbal tussle with the Ateneo coaching staff, after the flashy La Salle forward approached Ateneo coach Sandy Arespacochaga and made the 1-0 sign with his fingers. Pumaren crossed the border to personally pull Yeo back to their bench.

"I pulled him from there and out of the game. Just to avoid anything untoward. This is my district and ayaw ko ang may gulo," said Pumaren, a top-notch councilor in Quezon City.

A big frustration for Ateneo was JC Intal who struggled all game after coming off a bout with the flu. He only had six points in 17 minutes and was slapped a technical foul against La Salle’s Mark Benitez, leading to his disqualification with a minute remaining in the third period.

Marc Cardona, a strong candidate for the MVP crown, did play like one with his 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal, only two turnovers and not a single foul in 25 minutes. Ateneo’s LA Tenorio also did his best with 22 points.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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