MANILA,  September 30, 2004  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Everything boils down to this game–the final game of the season.

In a series that has turned out to be as tight, as dramatic and as exciting as it could get, the FEU Tamaraws and the La Salle Green Archers collide this afternoon at the Araneta Coliseum with the winner being declared, crowned and toasted as champions of the 67th UAAP season.

There’ll be no tomorrow for the two teams which split the first two games of the best-of-three series. Behind a quick start, La Salle took Game One, 58-51, and with its back against the wall, FEU called on its veterans to win Game Two, 67-57, and force today’s do-or-die match at 4 p.m.

The Green Archers are eyeing their fifth crown in the last seven years under coach Franz Pumaren who steered the team to four straight championships until 2001. The Tamaraws, on their part, are trying to keep the title they won over Ateneo last year, and are actually eyeing their third since 1997.

"There’s no tomorrow. The team that keeps its focus will win it," declared FEU coach Koy Banal who also acts as the Tamaraws’ spiritual leader. He said it was the right hand of God that gave them the victory last Sunday, and he’ll carry the same belief for today’s rubber match.

Pumaren said it will be hard work and the players’ intensity on the floor that will finally settle the issue. He said the Green Archers blew the chance to wrap it up four days ago only after they lost poise in the fourth quarter where they were held scoreless in the first five minutes.

"We were outrebounded, we didn’t execute well and we committed 29 turnovers. But if you really look at the game, we were there until we lost poise in the end. My players were disappointed after the game, but in the last two days, they’ve been upbeat. They even wished that the game was played today (Wednesday)," said Pumaren.

"This is going to be an exciting game. I don’t see either team dominating the match. So it’s going to be tight," said Pumaren yesterday as he prepared for the team practice at the La Salle gym.

How to stop MVP Arwind Santos is just one of those things. And the FEU forward who won the award over Mark Cardona of La Salle is ready to face the challenge.

"Makikipag-patayan na ako," he said after scoring 10 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in Game Two. "Nabuo kami sa game na ito eh. Yon ang pinagmamalaki namin. Hindi kagaya nung unang game talagang walang-wala. Naging puro individual at wala sa focus. Sabi namin huwag kami magduda. Pag may duda ka, huwag ka maglaro," he said.

The Coach of the Year award will also be at stake in today’s game after the UAAP technical committee decided to strip the media of the right to choose the winner through balloting. They changed the rule in the middle of the game and decided that the award will go to the coach of the champion team.

Notes: Anton Montinola, the FEU team manager, did not sit on the bench last Sunday because his presence, according to coach Koy Banal, only puts more pressure on the players. "So he made a sacrifice that he would stay off the bench. I think it was a good move," said Banal. Montinola, who watched the game on television inside the FEU dugout, showed up on the court only in the final minute when victory was on hand. From across the court, it seemed that he was in tears as he embraced the players one by one. Then he embraced Banal, too. Montinola was said to have gone so mad after the Game One loss that he had to be restrained from throwing things inside the dugout. "That’s crazy. How could I have done that when the FEU dugout was like a wake after that loss. It was so quiet," he told The STAR columnist Quinito Henson (or words to that effect). Will he stay off the bench today? Well, it’s his call…The Big Dome will be surely be filled to the rafters today. And here’s a tip to those who still don’t have tickets: stay home. But that’s unless you have the extra money to spare. Tickets have been sold out since Monday. But they’d still be available on the black market, of course. For how much the scalpers would only know. La Salle’s Franz Pumaren needed eight last-minute tickets last Sunday and he bought it for P1,200 each (lower box) on the black market. "I don’t understand it. The demand for tickets in this series is higher than the recent Ateneo-La Salle games. Sobra mahal," said Pumaren.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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