LA hopes third time's the charm against Bernalillo

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Boys basketball: ’Toppers will have to keep close eye on Brandon Saiz

By Mike Cote

Tonight’s District 2-4A semifinal boys basketball game could be a war and the Los Alamos Hilltoppers have their trenches all ready.
Los Alamos will take on the Bernalillo Spartans tonight for the right to advance to the district tournament championship game. Tip-off time is 7 p.m. in Bernalillo.
Tonight’s game will be the third meeting of the season between the two teams. Bernalillo has prevailed in both meetings, but Los Alamos had chances in both to pull off upsets.
Whether Los Alamos (11-16 overall, 4-5 in 2-4A) can pull of the upset, as well as build on the momentum it captured following a big win over Española Valley Tuesday night, remains to be seen.
But the Hilltoppers should know what to expect out of the Spartans (16-10, 4-4) based on their two previous contests.
“If we come out and execute like we’re supposed to and play defense like we did (Tuesday), we’ll be back in the district championship game,” Hilltopper head coach Fil Dominguez said. “We’ve got to concentrate on Bernalillo right now. Brandon Saiz is a very good player and they have a very good 3-point shooter in Trey Darnell.”
Bernalillo plays an effective inside-outside offense, spearheaded by Saiz, one of the best dribble-penetrating guards in the state.
Saiz has been a menace for the Hilltoppers this season. He scored 25 points in the teams’ meeting Feb. 4 at Griffith Gymnasium and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play with less than a minute remaining to help the Spartans clinch a 51-48 victory in Bernalillo Jan. 18. He had 21 points in that contest.
If Saiz runs wild tonight, it could be a very long game for the Hilltoppers, but if the Hilltoppers can slow Saiz down, like they did against another top guard, Jeremy Romero of Española Valley Tuesday, they should be able to keep pace with the Spartans.
Tuesday, Los Alamos was spotty on offense against Española Valley, which itself had an outstanding defensive game. Fortunately for Los Alamos, forward Bobby Sanders came through with one of the best games of his prep career, scoring 16 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.
“Bobby had a great game,” Hilltopper guard Nate Carver said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time. He was a little rusty since he came in late this season, but he had a great effort (Tuesday). It put us over the top.”
For the Spartans, they didn’t close out the regular season as well as they opened it. The Spartans dropped two of their last three contests, including falling to Española Valley in their season finale 58-47, although the Spartans were locked into the runner-up 2-4A slot.
At Los Alamos Feb. 4, Nick Baker finished with 13 points to lead the Hilltoppers and Nate Carver finished with nine points. Thomas Russell had 13 points to pace the Hilltoppers Jan. 18.
Tonight’s game will be broadcast on KRSN AM 1490.

Girls basketball

The Spartan girls will have a chance to continue their District 2-4A tournament run tonight.
Bernalillo (14-13, 5-4), which upset Los Alamos Tuesday 36-33 at Griffith Gym, is playing its best basketball of the season right now and will face Santa Fe, the team it upset late in the season to put it within one game of moving into the No. 3 seed for the district tournament.
It will be interesting to see if Santa Fe, which has been one of the big surprises in Class 4A, can bounce back after falling to Bernalillo 51-42, which effectively did in any shot the Demons had at a regular season 2-4A title.
The Demons (17-7, 6-2) might be the team of the future in 2-4A, with two outstanding freshmen on their roster, center Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage and forward Kayla Herrera.
The Spartans, who took a huge step toward clinching a Class 4A playoff berth with Tuesday’s win, will be looking for a big performance from their top player, point guard Marissa Valencia. Valencia spearheaded the fourth quarter comeback effort against Los Alamos, dropping in nine points in the fourth quarter after being held to just two points through the first three quarters.