LA hoops teams both have big challenges in district

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By Mike Cote

Very little has changed for the fortunes of Los Alamos Hilltopper basketball heading into the start of the District 2-4A season from last year to this.
Last year, the Hilltopper boys limped through a rough nondistrict season and hoping the start of 2-4A would help change their fortunes, while the Hilltopper girls were trying to figure out a way to keep pace with Santa Fe and Española Valley.
With the opening of district play now just two days away, virtually nothing in that scenario has changed. The only huge distinction between the two teams is that, last January the girls were attempting to acclimate to a new head coach, while this year, it’s the boys.
The Hilltopper girls open 2-4A play Tuesday night when they host the Bernalillo Spartans. The Spartans will host the Hilltopper boys the following night to get their 2-4A season rolling.
It will be an interesting jaunt for Los Alamos’ boys. To say the Hilltoppers have struggled so far in 2013-14 is an understatement.
Heading into this week, the Los Alamos boys were the lowest-ranked team in 4A. They’ve lost 11 of its 17 games by 20 points or more and has only broken 30 points once in its last five outings.
Even with all that working against them, the Hilltoppers are but one hot streak away from contending for a district title.
Los Alamos has been showing signs of life since head coach Mike Kluk took over two weeks ago. While there is still much work to be done, particularly on the offensive end, Los Alamos has been showing flashes of driving ability and kick-outs that have led to some good looks, although converting those looks into points has been an issue.
But the district as a whole is way down this year.
Often, District 2 is one of the stronger, if not the strongest, in boys basketball, but that has far from been the case this season. Less than two weeks ago, the district had a combined 14 victories on the season and eight of those were owned by Española Valley.
Española Valley is the favorite heading into district play, but is hardly a juggernaut. The Sundevils started off the season 8-2, but have lost six straight, although those losses have come against some very good teams and only two of those losses — to Class 5A Rio Rancho and Cleveland — could be considered blowouts.
The young, guard-heavy Sundevils are the team to beat heading into the 2-4A season, but they certainly aren’t invincible. However, no other teams have yet proven they can match up with the Sundevils.
Kluk said he feels the district is wide open and his team has as good a shot as anyone else to make some noise if it can stay disciplined.
“We’ve got to get everyone moving,” he said. “When we’re running our sets, we’re getting good shots…we run our offensive sets, we get a little more patient, I think we’ll compete with everyone in the district.”
On the girls’ side, everyone will be scrambling to keep within striking distance of Santa Fe.
The Demon girls are the clear favorites in the district and may be the favorite to win the 4A title this season.
That the Demons are on the top shelf this season comes as a surprise to no one. The Demons advanced to the semifinal round of the playoffs last year and have virtually all of their key players back from that team, not the least of which is center Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, one of the dominant low block players in the state.
For the Hilltoppers, they have found success when their guards, Amber Logan and McKenzie Logan, are getting space and either driving or getting the ball into the low post to the team’s leading scorer Kiana Zerr.
Point guard Amber Logan has particularly stepped up her game recently. She led Los Alamos to a 41-40 victory Friday night against Sandia, dropping in 13 points.
But Los Alamos has struggled with turnovers this season and both the Demons and Española Valley are quite adept at forcing turnovers.
The Sundevils are also getting some buzz as a possible 4A contender this season after a recent 8-game winning streak. However, that streak didn’t include many heavyweight teams.
Last season, Los Alamos advanced to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs as a No. 9 seed before succumbing to Los Lunas, the eventual champion.