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After facing off in a pair of hard-fought, close contests that went down to the waning seconds, many people probably expected more of the same between Los Alamos and Capital Thursday night.
But in the District 2AAAA boys basketball semifinal at Griffith Gymnasium, the Hilltoppers seemed well in control most of the night and did just about everything they needed to do to roll to victory.
After injuring the elbow on his shooting arm in Saturday night’s thriller between the two teams and missing two scheduled practices, Los Alamos center Alex Kirk made his presence felt early and often, picking up an impressive triple-double. Meanwhile, there was plenty more working for the Hilltoppers on both ends of the court as they knocked off the Jaguars 51-41 Thursday night to advance to the District 2AAAA tournament final.
The district tournament championship game will be played Saturday night at Española Valley, the regular season district champion. Game time is set for 7 p.m. It is the third straight year Los Alamos will play Española Valley for the tournament title.
Kirk, who fell on his elbow several times during Saturday’s game at home against Capital, said after Thursday’s contest that it felt alright, although he said was still pumped full of adrenaline and would probably feel it later.
The star center, who is bound for the top 10-ranked University of New Mexico following his graduation this year, finished the contest with 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocked shots, his fourth triple-double of the season.
Kirk said Thursday’s win owed to simply doing what needed to be done against Capital (13-12 overall, 6-4 in 2AAAA).
“We controlled the ball,” he said. “We got inside and banged it a lot more. We didn’t have the greatest offside rebounding, or rebounding, period, for that matter, but we got out on their shooters.”
Particularly, Los Alamos gave fits all night long to Capital’s primary weapon, Reece Goodman.
Goodman, a multi-pronged offensive threat who scored 28 points in each of the two regular season games between the teams, managed a relatively pedestrian 11 points Thursday. At the 2:03 mark in the third quarter, Goodman had collected just 3 points, all from the foul line.
On defense, Capital generally avoided the temptation of overloading on Kirk, who in the previous games found himself in the midst of several 3-on-1s and even a few 4-on-1s. But Kirk and the other Hilltoppers found good success in the paint, either by driving or on short dishes to cutters.
“We were just trying to get Alex isolated,” Los Alamos point guard Wade Archuleta said. “They doubled him a lot in the first two games, so we took (Zach) Parks down toward the paint because we knew his defender wouldn’t leave him.”
One of the big offensive beneficiaries Thursday was Hilltopper Brandon Owens, who made several drives down the baseline with or without the basketball. Owens had one of his better outings of the season, finishing with 8 points including a big bucket with 3:48 to go which put Los Alamos up 43-34.
“We slowed up the tempo and pounded it inside like we did before,” Owens said. “We haven’t been able to get into our game like that since the beginning of the season.”