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In the first District 2AAAA girls basketball game of the season, the first 10 minutes almost couldn’t have been scripted any better for the Taos Tigers, but the Tigers couldn’t capitalize.
And the Los Alamos Hilltoppers made them pay.
Los Alamos, which trailed by 5 points to the unheralded Tigers early in the second quarter, quickly righted the ship and outscored the Tigers 17-4 in the final 6:48 of the first half, taking control of Tuesday night’s contest.
Despite some spotty shooting throughout, the Hilltoppers got on enough streaks offensively and played high pressure defense that the Tigers couldn’t crack to take a big 50-28 win at Griffith Gymnasium.
Tuesday’s win was the seventh in a row for Los Alamos, which hasn’t dropped a game since late last month, keeping an impressive streak alive despite getting off to a slow start in its 2AAAA debut.
Los Alamos’ Sarah Worland, who had an outstanding non-statistical game playing hard-nosed defense and generally menacing the Taos wings and forwards all night before fouling out on a questionable hacking call in the fourth quarter, said a small adjustment made a big difference.
“One problem was that we were getting good box-outs, but we’d let them go too soon,” she said. “At halftime we talked about it and we started holding our box-outs stronger and longer.”
Taos, which had a marked height disadvantage, was able to field enough rebounds, particularly offensive rebounds, to give itself putback chances. That, combined with Los Alamos’ tight defense making the Tigers reverse the ball around the perimeter three or four times per possession, made the first half a very low-scoring affair.
With 6:48 remaining in the half, Taos’ Marissa Mares connected on a 3-point play off a quick drive to the hoop, one of the few drives Los Alamos allowed in the half. Mares’ hoop-and-harm gave the Tigers a 10-5 lead – the two teams were knotted at 5 after one period.
While Los Alamos’ offense struggled early to get going, Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said it wasn’t a huge concern in the first half.
“If nothing else is working for us, our defense pulls us through,” Logan said. “The defense kick-starts our offense and starts converting that into layups and fast breaks.”
Logan said the team’s shot selection in the first half wasn’t particularly good and some of the team’s better shooters were a little gunshy to begin the game.
The Hilltoppers (11-6 overall, 1-0 in 2AAAA) never got fully on-track offensively, hitting just 16 field goals in 53 attempts on the game (30.2 percent) and making just four 3-pointers, one of which was a long-range 3 by reserve Shelby Keffler late in the fourth quarter after the game was well out-of-reach.
Los Alamos’ Taylor Ealey, who has had the hot hand for the team of late, finished with a game-high 17 points. Ealey, like the rest of the Hilltoppers, never found a consistent stroke, but still managed 7 field goals in 18 attempts.
Ealey buried a pair of 3s in the second quarter, the first at the 3:51 mark gave Los Alamos its first lead of the game since 2-0.
Taos (6-12 overall, 0-1 in 2AAAA), on the other end, managed just 8 field goals in the game. While it did get to the foul line 24 times, 17 of those coming in the fourth quarter in which it never got closer than 14 points, it made just 12 of those chances.
None of the Tigers made more than two shots. They were led by Mona Trujillo’s 8 points. Iesha Mitchell, one of the Tigers’ best players in the paint, was a non-factor in the game, finishing with just 3 points and getting only a handful of touches after the first quarter.
While the Hilltoppers’ win wasn’t their prettiest, Worland said she’ll take a district-opening victory anytime she can get it.
“It’s really important,” Worland said. “In the first game of district, you’ve got to send a message that we’re coming to play every game and we’re coming to win every game.”
Los Alamos finished last season as the district runner-up in both the regular season and the 2AAAA championship tournament, losing out on both titles to Española Valley, which it will face for the first of two regular season meetings Jan. 30.
Worland said last season’s losses to Española Valley, which had its scheduled 2AAAA opener against Capital postponed Tuesday due to Santa Fe Public Schools’ closure, was something of a sore spot for many of Los Alamos’ returners.
Logan said after Tuesday’s game that the Hilltoppers will have to keep every game from here on out – including two nondistrict games in a row before its second district contest against Bernalillo Jan. 27 — in perspective.
“Taos is not necessarily who we thought was going to be our biggest competition,” she said. “We know Española is going to be very tough. But there’s always a little voice in the back of your head saying ‘this will be easy.’”