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Prep girls hoops: LA outlasts Taos, 42-31

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By Jose Corral

When playing Taos, teams just have to worry about limiting Aaliyah Quintana.

The Los Alamos girls basketball team did that in the second half en route to a 42-31 victory against Taos on Tuesday at Griffith Gym.

Quintana scored 12 of the Tigers (8-6) 14 first-half points but the Hilltoppers (5-12) limited her to only seven in the final 16 minutes.

"We had some scouting film on her," Los Alamos coach Josh Archuleta said. "She had set the state record (for points in a game) for a couple days. We knew that she was an offensive threat. Our goal was to deny her as much as possible.

"She had been averaging 28 points a game, no matter who they've played. I have to give it to Los Alamos because she didn't go for 28 on us and we got her a little frustrated."

Los Alamos had a tougher time containing Quintana in the opening half, as the Tigers took a 7-6 first quarter lead. The Hilltoppers did manage to stop other Taos players from contributing and used a 16-point second quarter to garner a 22-14 halftime lead.

"If we go and put all of our effort on containing (Quintana), somebody else can step up," Archuleta said. "We had to switch on the screens and have good help side defense because she likes to penetrate and they like to set her off screens. We played a really good help-side man (defense)."

Before Sienna Ahlers hit a triple to give Los Alamos a 30-16 lead late in the third quarter, Taos began to get some contribution from Lesley Guerrero, who scored the only third-quarter points for the Tigers.

The Hilltoppers went into fourth with a 34-18 lead but that lead was cut to 38-30 after back-to-back buckets from Elena Espinoza with 3:52 left in the game. Espinoza appeared to give Taos another attacking option but she fouled out with 3:21 remaining and Los Alamos capitalized and keyed on stopping Quintana in the ladder stages of the game. Ahlers sealed was it is likely the Hilltoppers most impressive win of the season with a transition layup to extend the lead to 40-31 with 1:14 remaining.

"We consistently had been playing a good first half and we built that lead and that's naturally the Los Alamos team that you know," Archuleta said. "We hit nine of our 10 goals in that first half and third quarter. The fourth quarter is when we backed off a bit."

Ahlers led Los Alamos with 15 points, including two 3-pointers, while Casey Trujillo scored nine - all in the first half.

Quintana finished with a game-high 19 points and converted four shots from 3-point range.

The win comes at a good time for Los Alamos, which will host perennial big school power Eldorado at 7 p.m. Friday before starting District 2-5A play on Jan. 18.   

"We're up against a powerhouse," Archuleta said. "Eldorado is a very good ball club. It'll be a good test for us to see how we play. If we can execute and play for four quarters, I think we'll be all right. But this was a big key win going into district."

Halftime strategy: On Tuesday, the Hilltoppers didn't partake in the halftime routine that involves the team heading to the locker room and discussing strategy for the second half. Instead, Archuleta opted to keep his players on the floor during the 10-minute half time session. Losing two halftime leads in last weekend's Lady Tiger Rumble in Aztec, prompted Archuleta to make this decision.

"This is the first time we've done it," Archuleta said. "We've been trying to figure what we can do to make these girls come out and stay the same team that came out in the first half. Sometimes it's just a mind game that we play. We figured we would try something new and obviously it worked on out favor.

Abeyta's first half absence: Los Alamos point guard Elena Abeyta didn't play in the first half on Tuesday and didn't see her first action until early in the third quarter. Archuleta said Abeyta missed a practice due to a college visit, which resulted in the senior missing the first half against Taos. Normally, a Los Alamos player is suspended one game for missing practice, according Archuleta. Abeyta started every game before Tuesday.

"She understood. She didn't complain," Archuleta said. "It was an educational thing that's why she only served a half game suspension."

Gallegos steps up from JV: Freshman forward Natalie Gallegos played her first varsity minutes on Tuesday and contributed with three points and key defensive rebounds.

"Natalie stepped up and did her job," Archuleta said. "She held her own out there. The size that she gives us on the court, is the one thing we were missing."