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BERNALILLO — On paper, Tuesday night’s boys basketball game was foreshadowed to be a thriller.
But in the second half, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers slammed that book shut.
Los Alamos traveled to Bernalillo to take on the Spartans, a dangerous and motivated opponent which, just three nights before had stunned the Capital Jaguars. A win over the Hilltoppers and the Spartans would have a share of first place in what’s shaping up to be a wild District 2AAAA chase.
Instead, the Hilltoppers crushed the Spartans, holding them to just eight points in the third quarter. The Hilltoppers ran away with a big 68-41 victory and now hold the edge in the 2AAAA standings with the Española Valley Sundevils lying in wait Friday night.
“We looked at this game as the biggest game of the season,” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “We were (there) on the road, they had just beat Capital…so we were kind of leery of being able to win down there.”
But the Hilltoppers’ put together another spirited effort in a district game, controlling the offensive boards and holding a potent Spartan offense to a low-wattage outing.
Los Alamos 6-foot-11 center Alex Kirk tormented Bernalillo in the third quarter as the Hilltoppers turned a 5-point edge at the half into an 11-point edge after three quarters and never looked back.
Kirk dropped in 10 of his game-high 30 points — more than any other two players combined in Tuesday’s game — hitting 5 of 6 shots from the floor in the third period. His only miss was on a long-range 3-pointer, on which he outraced the Bernalillo defense to the rebound and dropped in his fifth and final bucket of the quarter.
Moreover, Kirk flummoxed the Spartans’ main offensive weapon, Chris Garnand, throughout the second half. Garnand, who scored eight points in the second quarter, had only two buckets after the break, one of which came in garbage time with the Hilltoppers up by 29.
Before Tuesday’s game, University of New Mexico Lobos’ head coach Steve Alford was introduced as a special attendee. The Lobos, who lost out on Los Alamos’ most notable recent big man, 7-footer Chris Jackson, have been scouting Kirk hard since the start of District 2AAAA play last season, Kirk’s sophomore year.
Tuesday, Kirk stole the show among three big inside guys on the floor, himself and
Bernalillo’s Garnand and Ivan Luna. Luna had a relatively pedestrian outing, knocking in just 12 points, while Garnand finished with 16 points.
“We continued to play hard defense,” Alex Kirk said after the win. “We’re executing well on offense. Bernalillo played great. Luna played great, Garnand played great. We played hard and in the second half we finished a lot better.”
Kirk had plenty of support throughout the contest. Michael Helland, across the key, turned in one his best performances of the season, knocking in 12 points. Helland, who was hitting on 12-foot jumpers as well as making slashing moves to the basket, all but iced the win early in the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws, upping the Hilltopper edge to 46-31.
Doug Hardy at the point guard spot finished with 10 points and Jack Russell at the two-guard spot dropped in eight more. Wade Archuleta had four points coming off the bench.
On offense, the Hilltoppers were on fire Tuesday, converting on 27 of 49 shots from the field (55.1 percent). On defense, they held the Spartans to a 17-for-58 shooting effort (29.3 percent).
Coach Kirk said the guard play against Spartans Kellen Quintana and Yoshio Najera made a huge impact Tuesday.
Najera, who had a field day for Bernalillo in the win against Capital, was a non-factor Tuesday, as was Quintana, a solid spot shooter.
Los Alamos rotated its guard corps — Hardy, Russell, Archuleta, Zach Parks and Corey Clark — throughout the contest, which took its toll on Quintana and Najera, who were in the ballgame for Bernalillo for most of the night with only short sit-downs.
There were apparently no shortage of good things happening for the Hilltoppers throughout Tuesday’s win.
“That’s good defense by the guards,” coach Kirk said. “It was a good team effort. We didn’t have to worry about hitting 3s. We didn’t have to worry about scoring from outside. We worked it inside, got good shots from 5-10 feet out. Michael played a hecukva ballgame.”
Heading into Tuesday’s game, Bernalillo (12-8 overall, 1-1 in 2AAAA) had won seven straight contests, beating the likes of Aztec, Belen and Del Norte before its stunning 53-48 victory over the Capital Jaguars in Santa Fe Saturday night.
However, a big mismatch in depth was evident Tuesday. Bernalillo played just eight men in the contest and its bench players were held scoreless throughout.
The Spartans led only briefly in the game, that coming on a 3-pointer by Quintana — his only points of the contest — which gave his team a 13-12 edge with 15.0 seconds remaining in the first quarter. That bucket was answered, however, by Kirk’s baseline jumper with two seconds left.
Los Alamos opened the second quarter hitting each of its first six shots, including a pair of jumpers from the top of the key by Archuleta.
In its district opener Jan. 21, Los Alamos steamrolled Taos’ Tigers, beating the Tigers to every loose ball and dominating the boards on both ends of the court.
The Hilltoppers (14-6 overall, 2-0 in district) can firmly place themselves behind the 2AAAA wheel with a victory Friday night at Española Valley, although the top-ranked Sundevils will likely have something to say about that. The two teams are currently tied for first with the Sundevils having beaten the Tigers and the Capital Jaguars.
Bernalillo JV 62,
Los Alamos JV 58
In a back-and-forth struggle throughout the second half, the Bernalillo Spartan junior varsity outlasted the Hilltoppers Tuesday night at Bernalillo.
The two teams were tied at 45 heading into the final period. While Bernalillo led most of the fourth quarter, a putback layup by Brandon Owens with about two minutes left to go gave the Hilltopper JV a 1-point edge.
The Spartans were able to hit some big free throws down the stretch, however, and pick up some big rebounds to take the victory.
Los Alamos led 16-14 after one period Tuesday before Bernalillo came back to take a 32-27 lead at the half.
Owens finished with 15 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
Joey Martinez and Austin Aslin led a third quarter comeback by the Hilltoppers. Aslin dropped in all seven of his points in that quarter, while Martinez had eight of his game-high 18 in the third quarter as well.
Omar Luna finished with 13 for Bernalillo, while Dillon Darnell and Ryan Garcia both added nine points.