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Prep boys basketball: LA tops Academy in district tourney 1st round

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By Jose Corral

The opponent likely played a big part in the Los Alamos boys basketball team's offensive improvement.     

Nonetheless, even without starting point guard Antonio Trujillo, the Hilltoppers cruised to a 63-39 win against Albuquerque Academy Monday at Griffith Gym in the first round of the District 2-5A tournament.

"We didn't try to force as many crazy passes underneath," Los Alamos coach Mike Kluk said. "We only had five turnovers the first half and that helped us get our lead. Hopefully we'll have another game (tonight) where we cut down on those turnovers." 

Los Alamos advanced to play Del Norte in the second round at 5:30 tonight in Albuquerque.

"Del Norte is good and quick offensively," Kluk said. "But defensively, we just kill ourselves when we play them. If we can be in control offensively and hit the big guys, we should be alright."

In the Hilltoppers final two regular season games, the offense was sped up and was forced to make several mistakes by Capital and Espanola Valley's full-court press.

Academy doesn't possess the same speed as the Jaguars and Sundevils, which allowed Los Alamos to set its offense and get the ball inside early and often.

"The big thing is the opponent," Kluk said. "They (Academy) are not as quick and intense on defense as Capital, Espanola's and even Del Norte."

In result of getting the ball inside, junior post Troy Hammock gave Los Alamos an early 7-4 lead. The Chargers moved players towards the post to try to combat Los Alamos' inside game. But that opened the perimeter and the Hilltoppers capitalized after Ramon Roybal hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Hilltoppers a 14-7 lead.

Los Alamos continued to go inside in the second quarter, as senior post Cade Gasway threw down a dunk to extend Los Alamos' lead to 28-16 with less than three minutes remaining in the first half.

Academy didn't help itself by missing open close-range shots and the Hilltoppers capitalized from that and took a 30-20 lead at halftime. The Chargers got all of their 20 first-half points from Markus Parrish and Derek Purcella.

"We just have to slow things down sometimes and hopefully that'll cut down on our turnovers," Kluk said. "A lot of times we just don't look like we're in any control of the situation. That's been our emphasis."

The Hilltoppers began to pull away in the third quarter, as Michael Naranjo and Adam Paulson found space inside and put the game away by combining to score 17 second-half points. Los Alamos sealed the win by outscoring the Chargers 33-19 in the second half.

Trujillo was unable to play Monday due to illness and junior guard Brandan Duran got the start. Duran stepped in nicely and helped the Hilltoppers control the tempo by being patient on the offensive side.

"Brandan did very well tonight," Kluk said. "When we found out that Antonio couldn't go tonight, several of us just said that Brandan has been playing fine. We weren't that worried. He's been building evidently for this moment." 

For the second straight game, the Hilltoppers were without Jack Stewart, who's still nursing an ankle injury. Ivan Balakirev and Will Carter also didn't suit up for Monday's game. Kluk said it was unlikely that any player that missed Monday's game would play tonight against Del Norte.