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Against a small but quick opponent, winning the battle in the backcourt was of utmost importance for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team.
The Hilltopper guards didn’t beat the Taos Tiger guards Wednesday night; they destroyed them. That, along with complete dominance in the paint equaled a 70-39 rout of the Tigers Wednesday night at Griffith Gymnasium.
Taos, which didn’t appear on paper going into Wednesday’s District 2AAAA opener to have the ability to hang with Los Alamos in the paint, had high hopes that its guard tandem could create some havoc on the outside and open some driving lanes.
But Los Alamos guards Jack Russell and Doug Hardy proved to be more than a match for Taos’ guards.
Hilltopper guard Zach Parks, meanwhile, had a monster outing Wednesday, despite scoring just six points. Parks dished out eight assists, stole four first-half passes and even had two first-half blocks.
Parks’ high-octane effort more than trickled down to the rest of the squad Wednesday, which outhustled a speedy Tigers’ squad to the vast majority of loose balls and long rebounds.
Los Alamos, which going into Wednesday’s game had lost three of five and had a tougher-than-expected final nondistrict game against Del Norte, was hoping to grab some momentum in its district opener. District 2AAAA is again shaping up to be the toughest district in AAAA, if not the state, and wins will be at a premium.
“The first game of district, you have to come out strong,” Parks said after Wednesday’s win. “It’s a whole new season.”
Los Alamos’ defense was as good against Taos as it had been all season, holding the Tigers’ five starters to a combined 20 points.
Taos was led by Josh Garcia, who scored eight points coming off the bench. Garcia was the lone bright spot for the Tigers in the second half, scoring six of their eight third quarter points.
“We picked up our intensity around the ball,” Hilltopper post Michael Helland said. “Our guards really picked it up and created a lot of turnovers.”
The Tigers coughed up the ball eight times in the opening quarter and 14 times in the first half, more than a few of those turnovers created by Parks and the other guards.
About the only thing that kept Los Alamos from completely slamming the door on Taos in the first half — the score was 34-18 at the break — was the nine turnovers it had in the first half itself.
Once again, the Hilltoppers were led by 6-foot-11 center Alex Kirk.
Taos could do next to nothing to stop Kirk, who has been Los Alamos’ point-scoring leader in every game this season. Taos’ tallest roster player is listed at 6-foot-3.
Kirk dropped in 29 points, connecting on 5 of 6 from the floor in the second half as the Hilltoppers turned the game into a runaway. Kirk also finished with 12 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Los Alamos (13-6 overall, 1-0 in district) never trailed in Wednesday’s game and never led by less than 10 points after the final minute of the first quarter.
The Hilltoppers had good scoring balance throughout the night, with Helland’s nine points and Russell’s seven. All but one of the Hilltoppers that made an appearance in Wednesday’s game scored.
Taos guard Walo Martinez had six points in the first half, hitting two tough shots in the first quarter. Martinez had little breathing space against the Los Alamos backcourt the rest of the way, however, and got off just three more shots the rest of the game.
“Everyone contributed and everyone was active,” Parks said. “That’s how it should be every game. That’s what we’ve got to strive for.”
Things will get considerably tougher after Taos (3-13 overall, 0-1 in 2AAAA). Los Alamos will have almost a week to prepare for Bernalillo, the district’s biggest potential spoiler, which has been scouting Los Alamos hard the last two weeks — head coach Terry Darnell was at Wednesday’s game and brought his entire team to watch Los Alamos Friday against Del Norte.
Following that game, scheduled for Tuesday, Los Alamos will travel to Española Valley to take on the Sundevils, whom many believe could be the team to beat in Class AAAA this season. That game is scheduled for Jan. 30.