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ALBUQUERQUE – The first round of the Joe Armijo Classic was a chance for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team to get a first-hand look at the most dominant player in the state.
Los Alamos took on Los Lunas Thursday in the opening round of the tournament, hosted by the Albuquerque Academy Chargers.
Los Lunas features Teige Zeller, the 6-foot-2 center who is the best offensive player in the state, bar none.
For much of the first half, Los Alamos’ defense was up to the challenge, holding her to just four points in the first half and even getting her into foul trouble, but she dropped in 10 of her game-high 28 points in the third quarter.
Los Lunas, the defending Class 4A champ, outscored Los Alamos 23-9 in the third quarter en route to a big 70-55 win Thursday.
The Hilltoppers were able to hang well with the Tigers, who will likely be the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the state when the first rankings of the season come out, but the third quarter sunk the Hilltoppers’ chances of an upset.
“Through the first half, we played fairly well,” Los Alamos head coach Ann Stewart said. “There were some thing we could’ve done a little better. The third quarter we fell apart a little bit. That’s what killed us. We’ve got to play a full game.”
The good news for the Hilltoppers coming out of the first round was their offensive performance in the fourth quarter. The Hilltoppers had their biggest-scoring period of the season in the fourth quarter, dropping in 27 points and actually forced the Tigers to put Zeller back in with about 5:50 remaining to quell an 8-2 Los Alamos run.
Nine different Hilltoppers got into the scoring column in the final quarter.
For the game, both teams shot exactly 50 percent, which was something of a surprise considering they were both hovering around the 30 percent mark at the break.
Hilltopper forward Kiana Zerr had a big game. In addition to being tagged with the assignment of slowing Zeller down, she also dropped in 15 points to pace Los Alamos.
Unfortunately for Los Alamos, in the third quarter, as it has done in several previous meetings between the two teams, Los Lunas (2-1) started connecting from 3-point range and forcing Los Alamos to extend its defense.
As soon as Los Alamos (1-4) came out to challenge Los Lunas’ speedy guards, Zeller was able to take advantage, hitting 5 of 7 shots in the quarter.
Following Zeller, who was 12 of 15 for the game, Sanae Gaerlan finished with 11 points and Kaitlyn Thompson and Jordan Holland each had 8 points.
McKenzie Logan finished with 8 points and Amber Logan and Allison Crane each finished with 7 points.