Boys basketball: Los Alamos, St. Pius clash tonight

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By Mike Cote

With only a little more than a week before the start of District 2AAAA boys basketball play, Los Alamos is going to get a chance to see how it really stacks up among the upper echelon schools of its size.

Los Alamos will host St. Pius X tonight at Griffith Gymnasium. St. Pius, of course, was one of the members of 2AAAA before it was moved to District 5AAAA following the 2004-2005 school year.

Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.

St. Pius is the two-time defending Class AAAA champion and is one of the favorites for the title again this season.

The Sartans (9-3) arent the biggest team the Hilltoppers (10-5) have faced this season, but they will be one of the most experienced. The Sartans boast seven seniors on their squad, including Chris Johansen, a 6-foot-4-inch forward who some consider the best player in Albuquerque.

Among those who speak highly of Johansen is Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk.

Hes probably the best player whos going to be on this floor this year, Kirk said following Saturdays 72-65 loss to the Pojoaque Elks.

Going into tonights game, St. Pius has won five of its last six contests, its only loss during that stretch coming against two-time Class AAA defending champ St. Michaels, 59-49 in Santa Fe Jan. 8.

The Sartans list of dispatched opponents is impressive. That list includes Class AAAAA squads Eldorado, Rio Grande, Class AAAA Capital and Class AAA Pojoaque the latter two schools have handed Los Alamos three of its losses this season.

The work is clearly cut out for Los Alamos this evening, but its something the team is ready for.

Were going to start getting ready (Sunday), Hilltopper Ben Allen said after Saturdays game. Were not going to waste any time. Im not going to say anything else, because I dont want to give them locker room ammo.

In last weeks New Mexico Overtime Sports Center top 10 rankings done by a poll of the coaches St. Pius is ranked third Class AAAA. Los Alamos is currently ranked seventh, down a spot from the first poll of the season two weeks ago.

Were looking forward to (St.) Pius, guard Michael Helland said following the Pojoaque game. Theyre expected to beat us, theyre ranked above us, whatever you want to say, but were trying to send a message to AAAA. Were coming to play.

The Sartans actually dropped two spots from the first poll of the season. Two weeks ago, the Sartans were the top-ranked squad in the class. Last week, Espaola Valley picked up the top spot and Artesia finished in second.

The Hilltoppers have dropped three straight games heading into tonights game. In Saturdays game, they started off strong in the first quarter, leading 19-12 at the end of one, but Pojoaques Elks started bombing from long-range to slice the lead down.

Los Alamos, led by two big 3-pointers from Allen, cut a 12-point Pojoaque advantage down to four with two minutes remaining, but Pojoaques free throw shooting throughout the final quarter was ultimately the difference. Pojoaque converted on 15 of 18 chances at the stripe the Elks were in the bonus all but 17 seconds of the final quarter including two Ryan Gonzales free throws with 33.1 seconds remaining to ice the contest.

NOTE: The Los Alamos Monitor incorrectly reported last week that Fridays Los Alamos-Del Norte boys basketball game was scheduled to be played at home. That game will be played in Albuquerque. The Monitor regrets the error.