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The Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team came out of the weekend with a split against its District 1-4A opponents.
The rubber match against District 1 will be Wednesday against the No. 1-ranked team in the state.
It’s become something of a tradition for the Hilltoppers to take on District 1 schools — which are in the Farmington area — right before winter break and such is the case this year. The Hilltoppers fell to the Piedra Vista Panthers at Griffith Gymnasium Friday night, but were able to bounce back Saturday against the Aztec Tigers.
Los Alamos struggled in both contests, however, but was able to move the ball inside effectively against Aztec and set itself up with easy shots to take a 57-29 victory at home.
Friday, both the Hilltoppers and Panthers played shabbily, but the Hilltoppers’ lack of offense, particularly in the second and fourth quarters, did them in.
Piedra Vista forced 11 turnovers in the second quarter while Los Alamos managed just one field goal, as it took control of the game going into the locker room. Piedra Vista would prevail 41-28.
Piedra Vista, which came in as the No. 6-ranked team in the state, executed better on the offensive end up to the point where it had to shoot. However, the Panthers blew seven uncontested layups in the contest and missed several open mid-range jump shots, which through the final three quarters was about the only thing keeping the Hilltoppers in the game.
In recent years, the Hilltoppers have struggled against teams from the Four Corners area. That part of the state is dominated by small, quick guards who are generally quite adept at jumping into passing lanes, disrupting an offense’s timing and scoring on the other end. While, this preseason, the Hilltoppers spent much of their time working on combating teams that employ that style of play, they were largely ineffective against it Friday.
To start the second quarter, Los Alamos turned over the ball five times in its first five possessions, managing to get just one shot off in the opening 2-1/2 minutes.
The Panthers took their first lead of the game when Claudia Charles hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving them a 13-10 edge. The Panthers would never lose the lead from that point on.
Los Alamos trailed 24-13 at the break, a hole that might have been deeper had Piedra Vista not failed to convert four shots from three feet or closer.
Both teams shot poorly in the contest. Los Alamos finished just a hair over 20 percent from the floor, while Piedra Vista (4-3) managed only 29.5 percent.
Along with the forced turnovers, though, Piedra Vista also dominated the glass despite Los Alamos’ height advantage. Piedra Vista finished with 12 offensive rebounds and scored 11 second-chance points.
Nobody on either side finished in double-figures Friday. Amanda Chee and Madison Hunt of Piedra Vista, along with Monika Teter of Los Alamos, all scored nine points. Hayley Each, who missed time at the Joe Armijo Invitational last week due to injury, had eight points for Los Alamos, as did Charles.
Each, however, was the leading scorer in Saturday’s game. Each dropped in seven points in the second quarter against Aztec to finish with 14 points.
Los Alamos had much better offensive production Saturday, but turnovers were still a big problem. Los Alamos lost the ball 29 times, eight times in the second quarter which slowed down a productive stretch when the Hilltoppers were ready to run the Tigers out of the building.
The Tigers (1-5) managed just 4 field goals in 21 attempts in the first half.
McKenzie Logan, who got the starting nod Saturday, finished with 13 points, hitting 4 of 5 from the floor and 5 of 6 from the foul line.
Erin Kirk had a huge night for the Hilltoppers coming off the bench, scoring seven points — including hitting the only 3-pointer of the game — picking up seven steals and four assists.
For the Tigers, Rachel Kresl had nine points coming off the bench and Kendra Mitchell finished with six.
To finish off its three-game set, Los Alamos (5-5) will host the Kirtland Central Broncos, the top-ranked team in Class 4A, Wednesday night.
Kirtland Central (6-1) always presents a big problem for Los Alamos and could be an even bigger problem with the Hilltoppers struggling to control the ball. Pressure defense and creating turnovers are the hallmarks of Kirtland Central’s philosophy.
NOTES: Los Alamos is now 3-1 against Class 4A competition … Marissa Larribas of Los Alamos had seven of her 10 points coming off the bench in the third quarter … Friday night’s game was attended by former University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Don Flanagan, who was there to scout Piedra Vista’s Jobo Yazzie, a quick, lanky guard who had three steals and two blocks against the Hilltoppers … Also in attendance this weekend was Alex Kirk, older brother of Erin Kirk, who has been redshirted by the Lobo men’s team this season following off-season back surgery.