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A pair of very good quarters put together by the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team got it upset-minded Wednesday night.
But the No. 1 team in the state rallied with a big third quarter to regain the advantage and ultimately take the contest.
Los Alamos had Santa Fe back on its heels after one half, using solid interior defense and an effective up-tempo game that the Demons had trouble figuring out.
But the bigger, stronger Demons got settled into their very effective half-court offense when they could and forced a couple of key turnovers in the third quarter as they would ultimately prevail 48-40 at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Demons had won 19 straight games prior to being upset last weekend at home against Española Valley and needed a win in Los Alamos to keep pace with the Sundevils for the District 2-4A lead.
But the Demons haven’t exactly feasted against the Hilltoppers this season. Along with getting a scare Wednesday, the Demons didn’t dominate on the scoreboard when the two teams played late last month in Santa Fe.
“It was a good first half,” Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart said. “We did the things we talked about in practice. We had a let-down in the third quarter…this may not have been a win on the scoreboard, but it was a win in my book tonight.”
Los Alamos (10-13 overall, 2-4 in 2-4A) played about as well as it had all season in the opening half.
Rather than let Santa Fe’s big inside personnel, most notably center Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, get anchored down near the block, Los Alamos did an effective job of getting its hands on entry passes and then getting hands in shooters’ faces when they did get the ball inside.
Defensively, Los Alamos forced five turnovers in the second quarter — an uncharacteristic number for the Demons — and turned most of those into points on the other end. Los Alamos 2-guard McKenzie Logan had a big first half, dropping in three buckets in transition to finish with 9 points at the break.
Santa Fe head coach Elmer Chavez took a time-out midway through the second quarter after Logan stripped Briana Garcia and went the length of the court for a score to give Los Alamos a 6-point edge, its biggest of the game.
But, as has been the case much of this season, the Hilltoppers performed poorly in one quarter and against the Demons, that quarter ended up being the difference.
Santa Fe (21-2 overall, 5-1 in 2-4A) immediately got to work in the third quarter, erasing Los Alamos’ hard-earned lead in less than 90 seconds. It put together an impressive 10-0 run in the middle of the quarter and would lead 39-32 heading into the fourth.
The two teams played sloppily in the fourth quarter, but Los Alamos was never able to make a run to get the lead back.
The loss eliminated the Hilltoppers from any chance of earning a 2-4A title this season. The Hilltoppers have just two district games remaining, including another one against co-leader Española Valley Saturday night in Española.
Lozada-Cabbage, one of the dominant players in all of Class 4A, finished with a game-high 19 points, seven of those coming in the third quarter to help spur the comeback.
Stewart said with her height, strength and arsenal of power and finesse moves, she’s very difficult to shut down near the basket.
“We were able to kind of pack it in inside on the defensive end,” Stewart said. “We made some plays to control in the inside in the first half and we did a good job of that. Part of that was to make sure we could control her inside. There were times we did and there were times we didn’t.”
Following Lozada-Cabbage, another of Santa Fe’s big three, Kayla Herrera, finished with 12 points, although she managed just a 5 of 15 shooting performance for the game and made just one of her first seven shots.
Los Alamos was paced by Kiana Zerr. Zerr, who had solid nights on both ends of the floor, had 11 points and also finished with a pair of blocked shots. Logan had 10 — she missed much of the third quarter with foul trouble — and point guard Amber Logan had 8 points and 5 assists.