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It’s a rare night when the Bernalillo Spartans go down easily.
And in the first half of the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball District 2-4A opener, that appeared to be the case once again.
The Spartans held a slim lead after one quarter and were down just a point at the half.
But those tables turned quickly in the second half.
Los Alamos, employing one of the most effective transition games it has featured all season, went on a 7-0 run to open the third quarter. Bernalillo, which had been its scrappy self up to that point, never recovered beyond a scoring spurt to open the fourth quarter and the Hilltoppers rolled to a big 68-43 victory at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Hilltopper defense allowed the Spartans just four points in the third quarter, while forward Kiana Zerr and 2-guard McKenzie Logan combined for 12 of the Hilltoppers’ 18 points to bust the game open.
“We knew we needed to get a big lead,” Zerr said of her team’s mindset in the second half. “We had to pull things out. They came up on me and we were able to move the ball around…look back-door a couple of times and Kenzie could take it in most of the time.”
The Hilltopper defense was dominant in the third quarter and much of the fourth quarter and Zerr was a big beneficiary of that. The Hilltoppers’ fast break offense came up with 22 points in the half, 8 of those provided by Zerr, who finished with a game-high 20.
The win was a big one for the Hilltoppers (9-9), not only to get its 2-4A season started on the right foot, but to keep pace with the Santa Fe Demons. The Demons (17-1) also opened their district season with a huge win, knocking off the Española Valley Sundevils (12-5) Tuesday night in Española, 56-48.
Santa Fe, the No. 1 team in the state, had to come back from a deficit at the half.
Los Alamos and Santa Fe face off Friday night at Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
Bernalillo (5-13, 0-1 in 2-4A) was also aware of the stakes heading into Tuesday’s game. The Spartans came out firing from the 3-point arc, hitting some big shots from long-range.
The game was tied with under 3 seconds remaining in the first quarter, but Los Alamos committed two quick, silly fouls and sent Bernalillo’s Rachel Darnell to the foul line. Darnell came through, hitting both of her 1-and-1 chances to give the Spartans a 14-12 edge.
In the second quarter, the Spartans were still rolling and Los Alamos might have found itself down big if not for the impressive quarter turned in by reserve forward Makaela Jones, who went 4-for-5 in the quarter, dropping in 9 points.
For the Hilltoppers, Logan finished with 16 points and Jones and point guard Amber Logan added 9. Alleah Candelaria had 12 points for the Spartans and Deana Lopez, who started out hot, scoring 7 points in the first quarter, finished with 11 points.
Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart said she would’ve preferred to see her defense get out on the perimeter shooters better in the first half, but the Hilltoppers did a better job in the second half.
Once Los Alamos did that, Bernalillo struggled on offense. Other than a mini-run by the Spartans in the fourth quarter, after the game was out of reach, the Spartans couldn’t get much going, particularly from the 3-point line, where they would convert just one attempt in the final two quarters.
Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers were red-hot on offense, converting at a nearly 50 percent clip Tuesday, 51.7 percent in the second half.
Stewart said the zone defense employed by the Spartans was porous and allowed for plenty of openings in the lane for her offense.
“When they started to help outside, that pulls people out,” she said. “That got us a lot of open looks.”