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LA believes it can force teams into mismatches

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By Mike Cote

Hopefully, all the turkey and stuffing eaten by the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys varsity basketball team will have digested by Tuesday.Because on Tuesday, the team opens its 2007-08 season. The Hilltoppers will face the Kirtland Central Broncos Tuesday at Griffith Gymnasium, the first of two season-opening home contests.The Hilltoppers will be hoping to improve on last season where it advanced to the Class AAAA state quarterfinals — beating Goddard in the first round 78-65 — before being beaten by Artesia 68-61.Los Alamos, at this stage of the season, seems to like its chances.“We’re coming along,” Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said. “There’s no doubt we’ll be playing behind Ben and Nik, and looking to them for leadership.”The “Ben and Nik,” of course, refers to twin guard Ben and Nik Allen, who return for their senior season. The Allens will be primarily responsible for the team’s success on the offensive end of the floor.Last season, the Hilltoppers’ seniors were vital to their offensive success, not the least of which were All-District seniors Taylor Morrow and Luke Storer.But with nearly 40 points per game now needing to be found — not to mention some very good free throw shooting ability which could be crucial in the endgame — Los Alamos will be looking for another means of scoring.“We’re going to try to look for mismatches,” Kirk said. “Alex (Kirk) is 6-foot-9, and with the twins’ ball-handling and speed, we can give teams difficult situations to deal with.”Getting the bench players to step up will be of vital importance this season. Going into nondistrict play, Los Alamos only goes six or seven deep and will need to find that depth as soon as it can.Other than the Allens — who were both named to the All-District second team in 2006-07 — and Kirk, Los Alamos returns only senior guard Mike Matteson from last season’s squad that won 20 games.Los Alamos started practicing Nov. 5, the official opening of the winter season, but because a good portion of his team was still involved with football, Kirk was still somewhat unsure about who was going to be playing where.The Hilltoppers will dress between 12 and 14 players per outing, which includes three or four junior varsity players that will float up to the big squad.The current roster consists of seven seniors, four juniors and three sophomores.Los Alamos had its preseason scrimmage a week ago. Kirk said that for the most part the team looked good — its best showing coming against Class AAAAA Albuquerque High — but there was some apprehension in a couple of the games, most notably against Taos.Kirtland Central should give him a good idea about some of the uncertainties. Los Alamos beat Kirtland Central 63-52 in the teams’ meeting last season, and the sub-varsity squads also played very well against their Kirtland Central counterparts.Even though some adjustments will no doubt be needed after the opening contests — Los Alamos will also host Santa Fe Friday — most of those will have come on the road. Following the two games this week, Los Alamos doesn’t make another home appearance until Jan. 12.In between that time, the Hilltoppers will see the likes of St. Michael’s, Piedra Vista, Farmington and Highland.Before the opening of the District 2AAAA season Jan. 23, Los Alamos will face a solid Class AAA club in Pojoaque and a St. Pius X club that might vie for a state AAAA title.Other teams that could be in contention at state playoff time are Goddard, Albuquerque Academy and Artesia, even though it’s believed Artesia’s Bulldogs will be without one of the top players in the state, Landry Jones, who is expected to report to the University of Oklahoma to start training for football.Kirk isn’t counting out a serious contender emerging from Los Alamos’ 2AAAA. He believes his team, Española Valley and Capital could all get into the playoffs, and once they’re there, could all be primed for a long tournament run.“I think we’re going to be very competitive,” Kirk said of district play. “The past couple of years, it’s come down to those who could defend their home floor, and we were able to do that.”