MANILA,  September 27, 2004  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Despite a bucketful of turnovers, it was a better FEU squad that showed up yesterday, that defeated La Salle, 67-57, and that sent this yearís UAAP finals into a climactic, deciding third game on Thursday at the Araneta Coliseum.

The Tamaraws threw the ball over 29 times but were somehow lucky to get away with the victory that helped them avoid being swept by the Green Archers in the series they were expected to dominate.

"Sinabi ko kay coach na hindi ako papayag na ma-zero ng La Salle," said Arwind Santos, who was earlier crowned this yearís MVP. His 10 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 33 minutes showed why heís the MVP.

"Kung may sumbrero lang ako, tatanggalin ko na para sa kanya," said FEU coach Koy Banal in praising Santos as much as he praised the Lord for the victory that kept FEUís title-retention bid alive.

"Hindi masyado nagtitira si Arwin because he concentrated on defense and rebounding," added Banal of Santos who edged La Salleís Mark Cardona for the prestigious award that was handed out before the game.

The Tamaraws, their pride and ego hurt after a disappointing loss in the series opener last Sunday, jumped the gun on the Green Archers this time, dictating the early tempo and leading by as many as 13 points late in the second period.

But the Green Archers caught fire in the third, forcing the Tamaraws into eight turnovers and cutting the lead to two, and for more than a couple of minutes came so close to the equalizer or the go-ahead basket.

But it never came.

In the fourth, it was FEUís turn to heat up anew, unleashing a 10-0 run that lasted five minutes. By then, the Green Archers were a tired unit as they kept missing close shots and throwing the ball away as if there was no title at stake.

Cardona finished with 18 points but had eight turnovers, failing to shake off a pesky defense put up on him by rookie Paul Flores, a player who was hardly seen in action in FEUís previous games.

Flores turned out to be a surprise package.

"Heís been showing a lot of effort in practice. We had Viva (the PBL team) as our sparring partner yesterday and Flores was holding his own against the bigger players like Cesar Catli. Thatís why I used him. And he delivered," said Banal.

The moment he stepped into the court in the first quarter, Flores got under Cardonaís skin, bumping the La Salle guard in a dead-ball situation and getting shoved in return.

He never left Cardonaís face in the 10 minutes he played.

Flores even scored five points, including a triple in the second quarter. After hitting the basket, he faced and taunted the La Salle fans. And after the final buzzer sounded, he celebrated and danced at centercourt as if heíd just been crowned MVP.

Notes: Those who waited for the Coach of the Year award to be presented yesterday were frustrated after the UAAP board decided to defer the announcement. Members of the UAAP Press Corps were supposed to decide the winner. They were asked to cast their votes last week. Dindo Pumaren of UE came out the winner with eight votes, followed by Franz Pumaren of La Salle with seven, Sandy Arespacochaga of Ateneo with six and Lito Vergara of UP with two. But the board, in what appears to be a sudden change of rules, said the winner will have to come from the champion team. When board member Sonny Paguia of NU was asked why the media were asked to vote, he said: "Hindi ko alam bakit nag-botohan pa." Coach Koy Banal of FEU was also asked about the award. His answer? "Di ba si Dindo na?"

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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