Girls basketball: LA faces tough set of games starting tonight

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By Mike Cote

By this time Tuesday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team should have a pretty good idea how it stacks up against District 1.

Starting tonight, the Hilltoppers will play three games in four days against opponents from the Four Corners area. These three important games, all at home, will be highlighted by a contest Monday against the Kirtland Central Broncos.

Tonight, Los Alamos hosts the Piedra Vista Panthers. That will be followed by Saturday’s game against the Aztec Tigers.

Tonight’s game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off time at Griffith Gymnasium while Saturday’s game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

Piedra Vista, Aztec and Kirtland Central represent District 1AAAA, a district which is shaping up to be an absolute dogfight this season. Three of those teams are ranked in the top 10 according to the latest New Mexico High School Coaches Association poll, which was released earlier this week.

The Broncos, the 2008-09 state Class AAAA runners-up, are the top-ranked team in the state in that poll, garnering half of the first-place votes cast this week.

Los Alamos was ranked seventh in AAAA this week.

The Hilltoppers won one of three contests at the Joe Armijo Invitational last weekend, the last time they’ve hit the floor. They topped the former top-ranked team in the classification, St. Pius X, but lost both to Sandia and Hope Christian.

Although Los Alamos is just 2-4 on the season so far, both of its wins have come against Class AAAA schools — Moriarty and St. Pius.

“I’m pleased with where we’re going,” Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said. “(Against Sandia), we played a really tough team, (against St. Pius) we played a really good game and (against Hope) we played a good game, but the chips just didn’t fall our way.”

The Hilltoppers had their best scoring outing of the season against St. Pius. They topped the Sartans 49-44, the only time they’ve broken 40 points this season.

Piedra Vista (5-3) won three straight games to start the season but has lost three of its last five, including its last outing at Class 5A’s Cleveland High School, falling 49-37. Two of its losses this season have been to Los Alamos’ nearest neighbor, Pojoaque.

Aztec’s Tigers (2-5) have struggled so far this season, but have played a challenging schedule which has included Class 5A Rio Rancho — a narrow 42-41 loss — and Durango, Colo.

The Broncos, meanwhile, have started the season much the same way they ended last season. A remarkable playoff run in the postseason was kick-started with a lopsided 62-33 victory over the Hilltoppers at Kirtland.

The Broncos’ sole loss of the season came against Winslow, Ariz., in the first round of the Gallup Invitational.

In 2009-10, it has rolled over Rio Rancho, Los Lunas and Navajo Prep, a very good Class AA program.

Kirtland Central is among the most successful girls prep basketball programs in the nation, having won 17 state championships since 1979 — most recently in 2005. It has failed to make the championship game just three times in 30 years.

This season, in contrast to most seasons, Kirtland Central does have some height on its roster, with six players listed at 5-foot-8 or above.

For Los Alamos, it will likely need to have a big offensive output to keep up with Kirtland Central (5-1), which is capable of putting up big numbers in any given time on the floor.

While Los Alamos has managed 38 points or less in five of its six outings this season, its defense has been able to keep it in most ballgames.

The defense is allowing just 40.8 points per game, 36.4 if a runaway victory by Sandia last week is subtracted.

By contrast, however, its offense has scored just 207 points on the season, a 34.5-point average.

Forward Shelby Courtright had one of the best tournament showings of her career, scoring 14 points against Sandia, 13 points Hope Christian and being named to the All-Tournament team. Courtright also finished with 7 rebounds against Hope.

Logan said she wanted to get several aspects of her team’s game ironed-out prior to this three-game set, which takes on added significance not only because all the games involve AAAA teams but Los Alamos could well run into more than one of these teams again in the postseason.

“We’ve got to rebound and we’ve got to box out,” she said. “We’ve got to make good passes and we’ve got to finish. We were able to control the pace the last two games, but we’ve got to do the little stuff right all of the time, not some of the time.”