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Against a tough Class 5A opponent, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team needed all the help it can get Friday night.
That help came in the form of Anna Scott at the end of each half.
Scott, a shooting guard for the Hilltoppers, had a rebound-and-putback at the buzzer to end the first half, then came through with the play of the game, hitting a NBA-range 3-pointer as regulation expired, lifting the Hilltoppers to a big win over the Sandia Matadors.
Scott, on the right side of the 3-point circle, had just enough time to catch and shoot a long-distance 3, which swished through the net to give Los Alamos a 46-43 victory at Griffith Gymnasium.
Scott, who’d had a relatively quiet night until the fourth quarter, came up with seven points in the quarter, including the game-winning 3.
Friday’s win over the Matadors (10-4), who went into the ballgame as a top 10-ranked team in 5A was the first coaching victory at Los Alamos for Ann Stewart.
Stewart, who was given the head coaching job for the Hilltoppers Monday following the surprising mid-season departure of Tarah Logan, said the win was simply a matter of Los Alamos taking what Sandia’s defense was giving.
“We saw every time we went to the corner they were shifting enough that the back side was there,” Stewart said. “They didn’t have any help back there.”
Los Alamos torched the Sandia help side defense all night long, with forward Kiana Zerr doing much of the damage in the first half.
Zerr, who stands 5-foot-8, continually got free on the back side and the Hilltopper guards found her near the block all night long.
Zerr finished with 12 points, second on the team behind only McKenzie Logan.
Logan, a junior, had what might have been her career night Friday. She finished with 18 points, 9 points in each half, dropping in 7 points in the third quarter as the Hilltoppers jumped out to a 9-point lead.
Prior to Friday night, Logan had mostly played out on the wing for Los Alamos, but against Sandia she was given considerably more ball-handling duties and showed she was very much up to the task. The Matadors struggled to slow her dribble-penetration from the perimeter and, with some strong moves to the basket, she was able to take advantage.
Logan said Stewart is trying to implement some different looks on the offensive side of the court and the team is already starting to get the hang of them.
“We’ve been working on it in practice,” she said. “We’ve changed our offense, but we’re catching up really easily. It’s not hard because in practice we’re staying focused and we’re working as a team very well.”
Los Alamos (10-8) was the underdog heading into Friday’s game and started off the game slowly, with the Sandia man-to-man defense offering very little through most of the first quarter.
But Los Alamos saw that, when playing zone, Sandia was overcommitting its defense toward the ball, leaving Zerr wide open under the basket on several occasions. And Zerr came through, hitting 6 of 9 attempts from the field.
In the second quarter, Sandia went on a couple of mini-runs, but Los Alamos immediately countered those, taking its first lead of the ballgame with about three minutes left in the first half.
With the Hilltoppers holding onto a 3-point lead, Scott corralled a missed 3-point attempt and put it off the glass with no time left to give her team a 22-17 lead at the break.
Los Alamos jumped out by as many as 11 points early in the fourth quarter, with Logan dropping in 7 points in the third quarter, but the Matadors came back. Forward Alayna Latimore hit a couple of buckets early in the quarter to help the Matadors get back in the contest and guard Astrea Reed went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the quarter.
With under a minute remaining, Los Alamos forced a turnover and Logan, with a nifty fake pass into the corner, dropped in a transition bucket to give the Hilltoppers a 43-40 edge.
Then, with time winding down, Reed got loose in the left corner and connected on a 3-pointer to tie the score with 11 seconds remaining. Stewart said she tried calling a timeout before Sandia inbounded the ball but the official on that side of the court didn’t hear her.
Nevertheless, with Scott’s buzzer-beater, the Hilltoppers still emerged victorious.
Friday’s game was the last one of the season for the Hilltoppers, who start District 2-4A play on the road Tuesday night against Bernalillo.
The win might prove to give Los Alamos the jump-start it needs in what appears to be a dogfight for the top spot.
The Hilltoppers still must contend with the undefeated Santa Fe Demons and the always-tough Española Valley Sundevils, but should be feeling better about themselves heading in.
“When we lost two players (last week) it was stressful,” Logan said. “Then we lost our coach. But Coach Stewart is doing a great job. It’s been stressful but it brought us together and made us a better team.”