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While the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team will have to answer some questions throughout the course of this season, it passed the first pop quiz Tuesday night.
Los Alamos outlasted a quick, pesky team from Kirtland Central Tuesday in its first game of the 2009-10 season. Los Alamos outscored Kirtland Central’s Broncos 23-11 in the third quarter, breaking the contest open and riding that wave to a 77-64 victory.
Even more importantly than picking up the victory in its opener, played at Griffith Gymnasium, Los Alamos performed the way it was hoping it would. The Hilltoppers held onto the ball despite regular pressure put on the Broncos, they were able to get the ball inside to big man Alex Kirk most of the night and they got some good minutes out of their younger roster players.
“I thought overall, it was not too bad,” Los Alamos guard Wade Archuleta said following Tuesday’s victory. “We’ve got some things to work on. Our transition hurt us a little bit…but the young guys stepped up and played pretty well. I was impressed with that.”
Kirtland Central, which had little height to counter Kirk, the 6-foot-11 center who earlier this month signed to play next year for the University of New Mexico, nonetheless came out aggressively Tuesday, attacking the basket and crashing the backside boards whenever it got the chance.
The aggressive play paid off early for the Broncos, who had eight second-chance points in the first quarter alone.
But Los Alamos, which features not only three sophomores this season but several other players with limited varsity minutes, was able to adjust well, stepping in front of Kirtland Central’s backside rebounders by the end of the half to limit those second chances.
Meanwhile, all three of Los Alamos’ sophomores — Nick Baker, Austin Aslin and Thomas Russell — had time on the floor Tuesday.
“You’ve got to break the ice,” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “You’ve got to get those guys out there on the floor and see what they can do.”
Baker, in particular, had a good showing for his varsity debut. He finished with five points and a steal and assist to Zach Parks at the 2:47 mark of the third quarter. Parks’ bucket gave the Hilltoppers their biggest lead of the game at the time (18 points).
But Kirk, who had 28 points in the teams’ season opener a year ago, was once again the main offensive and defensive force in the ballgame.
Kirk took over the game in the third quarter, dropping in 14 points of Los Alamos’ 23 points in the frame.
Kirk grabbed five offensive rebounds in the quarter and had a thunderous dunk which brought the Hilltopper student section to its feet late in the quarter.
Los Alamos held just a 33-26 advantage at the break Tuesday, but outscored the Broncos 23-11 in that third quarter to take full control.
For the game, Kirk finished with 34 points. He hit three 3-pointers in the first half and went 14 of 25 from the field.
Coach Kirk said he would’ve preferred to see better scoring balance than his team had Tuesday, however. Outside of Alex Kirk’s big night and forward Brandon Owens’ nine points — seven of those coming in the fourth quarter — Los Alamos picked up just three buckets in the low post.
The 77 points scored by the Hilltoppers is right on par with the kind of performance Kirk said he’s hoping to generate this season.
“I think it was a good start,” he said. “It’s a good point to start getting some measurements and see what we need to do to improve.”
Both teams shot well from the floor considering it was the season opener for both teams. The Hilltoppers went 31-for-63 (49.2 percent), while the Broncos countered with a solid 23-for-55 effort (41.8 percent).
Parks, a senior who is adopting the lion’s share of the point guard duties this season, finished with 15 points, hitting 4 of 9 attempts from beyond the 3-point circle.
Moreover, Los Alamos (1-0) turned the ball over just 11 times Tuesday and only six times in the first three quarters.
For Kirtland Central (0-1), Malcolm Toledo had 14 points to lead, although he was limited to just four points in the second half. Alvin White scored 12 points, all of those in the fourth quarter, and Channing Jim finished with 10 points.
While it was a good start for the Hilltoppers, who have five of their first six games this season at home, there are still a few things to work on.
“Conditioning is a big one,” Archuleta said. “We have to get back in transition and, overall, we’ve got to get better running our offense. It wasn’t real smooth. That’s what we’ve got to work on these next few weeks.”