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Boys basketball: LA faces big challenge at tourney

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By Mike Cote

The Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team might have mixed emotions following Tuesday’s postponed home game.

Los Alamos was scheduled to play the Belen Eagles Tuesday night at Griffith Gymnasium, but the game was postponed indefinitely due to the snow and icy road conditions.

Should the weather clear out – weather reports for the next several days predict that will be the case – Los Alamos will still have plenty of competition to look forward to this week, despite being unable to play Tuesday. Los Alamos will take part in the Joe Armijo Invitational Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

That tournament will be played in its entirety at Albuquerque Academy.

The Joe Armijo tournament, which is rarely a cakewalk for any team, is boasting in 2009 one of the toughest fields it has ever hosted.

How tough is the eight-team field? The only team with a sub-.500 record heading into Tuesday night’s play was St. Pius X, the three-time defending Class AAAA champion.

Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said whichever team survives the bracket to win the tournament will have earned it.

With a field of the top 4A and 5A schools attending, the team everyone might be trying to catch is the lone 3A entry, Hope Christian.

Hope is a perfect 5-0 on the season so far – as are Los Alamos and Española Valley – and features quite possibly the tallest lineup in the state with five players listed at 6-foot-2 or above.

The Hilltoppers, who are also 5-0 on the season, will be playing on the opposite side of the bracket from Hope Christian, although the top half of the bracket is hardly a picnic.

In addition to St. Pius, Los Alamos shares its half of the bracket with host Academy, St. Pius and Rio Rancho, its first round opponent.

Rio Rancho’s Rams are 4-1 on the season with their only loss coming at the hands of Plainview, Texas, in an out-of-state tournament last weekend.

Kirk said his team needs to be ready for Rio Rancho and its primary weapon, point guard Lucas Archuleta.

Thursday’s game will be just the second game Los Alamos has played outside of Griffith Gymnasium. Its only other away game to date was also the only game in which Los Alamos won by less than 13 points, a 54-52 nail-biter at St. Michael’s Dec. 3.

The Hilltoppers were very interested to see the Belen Eagles, a team that could be in the mix come playoff time, but the weather nixed that chance.

Kirk said he didn’t think the possibility of rescheduling with Belen was very large.

“We moved that game already,” he said. “Initially, it was supposed to be down there, but they had a schedule conflict and when you move a game like that, it usually means you don’t have any open dates to reschedule it at your place.”

The Eagles (2-0) would’ve been rolling into Los Alamos with four players just one day removed from football season. The Eagles advanced to Saturday’s Class AAAA state championship game, but were upset by the Goddard Rockets 28-21.

Here is the schedule for the Joe Armijo Invitational boys basketball tournament. All games at Academy’s East Gymnasium except Saturday’s seventh-place game.

Thursday

Española Valley vs. Manzano, 1 p.m.

Hope Christian vs. La Cueva, 2:45 p.m.

Los Alamos vs. Rio Rancho, 5:15 p.m.

Albuquerque Academy vs. St. Pius X, 7 p.m.

Friday

Española Valley-Manzano loser vs. Hope Christian-La Cueva loser, 1 p.m.

Los Alamos-Rio Rancho loser vs. Academy-St. Pius loser, 2:45 p.m.

Española Valley-Manzano winner vs. Hope Christian-La Cueva winner, 5:15 p.m.

Los Alamos-Rio Rancho winner vs. Academy-St. Pius winner, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Seventh-place game, Academy West Gymnasium, 1 p.m.

Fifth-place game, 11:15 a.m.

Third-place game, 2:45 p.m.

Championship game, 7 p.m.