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It was a defensive struggle, to say the very least.
Playing in its next-to-last game before the start of the District 2AAAA season, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team held its opponent, Pojoaque, to a season-low 21 points.
That was the good news. The bad news was the Hilltoppers could only manage a season-low 18 points.
Lucas Salazar, Pojoaque’s slippery point guard, hit a fallaway, 25-foot 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give the Elks the victory in the offensively-punchless nondistrict contest Thursday at Griffith Gymnasium.
The teams combined for a grand total of 17 points in the second half, with the Elks managing only Salazar’s off-balance 3-ball from the field for the final 10:20 of the ballgame.
“Los Alamos had good defense,” Salazar said afterward. “We had a hard time running plays, but we were not executing like we should.”
Both teams overloaded their defenses in the paint, relegating the other to only low-percentage perimeter shots.
Los Alamos spent the vast majority of its time with the ball passing around the perimeter. It got off only 16 shots for the entire contest, managing a scant six shots in the first half.
“The point total we have, you can put that on me,” Los Alamos head coach Matt King said. “It’s a process. We want to be tough on defense…but we need to become more balanced.”
With a district season looming that’s almost guaranteed to be loaded with offensive fireworks, the Hilltoppers (4-12) have managed just 45 points in their last two games. High-octane offenses such as Española Valley and Bernalillo — which Los Alamos opens with Wednesday night — will be difficult for even the most stout defense to contain, let alone hold to single-digit scoring every quarter.
Los Alamos was looking to get the ball into center Travis Richins for much of the first half. While Richins got free down low twice in the first quarter, accounting for all of the team’s five points during that time, Pojoaque adjusted its defense, manning him up against Christian Gonzales-Baca, who fronted him and allowed few entry passes to him the rest of the way.
Richins finished with a team-high seven points. Gonzales-Baca had nine points to lead all scorers, while Salazar added eight.
With Thursday’s win, Pojoaque (9-5) swept the two-game series this season with Los Alamos this season. Pojoaque topped Los Alamos 48-42 in the the Ben Lujan Invitational last month.
The Elks never trailed in Thursday’s game. Richins’ bucket, off an assist from Nick Baker, tied the score at 18 with 29 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Elks held the ball near midcourt to play for one final shot, but held on too long and had to rush the ball into the right corner with only about :05 remaining on the clock. Robert Ortiz was trapped by Los Alamos’ guards in the corner and had to dish the ball off to Salazar, who was well guarded, for his desperation 3.
Salazar’s shot banked off the glass and went cleanly through the cylinder as the buzzer sounded.
It was the second buzzer-beating game winner of the season for Salazar.
“The team expects me to shoot that last shot,” he said.