Boys basketball: Pojoaque holds on for 72-65 win

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By Mike Cote

The bragging rights for the 2007-08 season officially reside downhill.

A big push in the second half by the visiting Pojoaque Elks, which included six 3-pointers, gave them the 72-65 victory over the homestanding Los Alamos Hilltopper boys varsity basketball team Saturday at Griffith Gym.

Pojoaque scored 44 points in the second half to take the game between the two teams whose healthy rivalry has remained alive and well even after the Hilltoppers left Class AAA following the 1999-2000 season.

We came out here knowing what kind of game it was going to be, Los Alamos guard Ben Allen said. We started playing at Pojoaques speed. You do that, youre probably going to lose to them.

Los Alamos started to run the floor with Pojoaque early rather than settle into what it does best, namely, play its half-court offense through center Alex Kirk.

Every time we tried to run with themwed get open looks, but we hurried our shots and missed them, Allen said.

The Hilltoppers looked like they might run away with Saturdays game, opening up a seven-point lead after one period, but the Elks came back with a barrage from beyond the circle.

Pojoaque forward Ryan Sullivan buried a pair of 3s in the second quarter, the first coming to cap an 8-0 Pojoaque run in a span of less than 40 seconds to open the period. While Los Alamos retained the lead through the quarter, Pojoaques Ryan Gonzales, who is average well over 20 points per game this season, nailed another 3 with under 1:30 remaining to put the Elks within 29-28 at the break.

The third quarter, however, is when the Elks caught fire. The Elks nailed five 3-pointers Gonzales with two of them as they outscored the Hilltoppers 22-16.

In that third quarter, the games two marquee players, Gonzales and Kirk, sparkled. While Gonzales had 7 points and a pair of steals, Kirk countered in the paint with 9 points, 3 rebounds and a blocked shot.

Kirk, who is in the midst of a monster sophomore season, came up with 27 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor, including two thunderous slams his first and last field goals of the game and swatted six Pojoaque shots.

Allen finished with 22 for Los Alamos, saving his best for the endgame.

Pojoaque opened up a 12-point lead with 5:24 remaining, but Allen would counter with four straight field goals, two coming off turnovers he created.

The Hilltopper comeback attempt, even though falling short, was good psychologically for the team, with the game threatening to get out-of-hand.

We started to get steals and we started scrambling more, Los Alamos forward Michael Helland said. I was happy with the effort.

Allens 3-pointer at the 2:06 mark cut the Pojoaque advantage to four.

But the Elks were lights-out from the free throw line in the final period. The Elks reached the bonus with only 17 seconds expired from the final quarter and from there hit 15 of 18 free throw attempts to seal the deal.

Gonzales finished with 21 points and Sullivan had 13 coming off the bench for Pojoaque (12-3).

Twelve 3s is tough to beat, Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said. We were making 1s and 2s. They were making 3s.

Los Alamos actually shot better from the floor in the contest. Los Alamos went 24-for-52 from the field Saturday (46.2 percent), while Pojoaque finished 21-for-57 (36.8 percent).

In the first meeting between these teams, which came during the semifinal round of the Ben Lujan Invitational Dec. 21, Pojoaque handed Los Alamos just its second loss of the season in a 52-50 contest.

In that game, Los Alamos also led early then made a big push late in the fourth quarter to make the game close.

Los Alamos (10-5) lost its third straight contest as it starts this, its toughest stretch of the nondistrict season.

Its next contest, at home Tuesday, comes against the two-time defending Class AAAA champion St. Pius X Sartans.

Weve got to take it to them, coach Kirk said. Its going to be fun. Its going to be a good challenge.