Boys basketball: Toppers advance in Lujan tourney with win

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By Mike Cote

JACONA — In the first round of the Ben Lujan Invitational Tournament, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys varsity basketball team used the bookend quarters quite nicely.The Hilltoppers outscored the Wingate Bears by 29 points in the first and fourth quarters, while cruising in the middle quarters to upend the Bears 78-48 and advance to tonight’s tournament semifinal.Thursday afternoon’s contest, held at Ben Lujan Gymnasium on the Pojoaque High School campus, was a wild, run-and-gun affair with the Bears barely stopping to take a breath the entire game.The Bears launched 57 shots, 12 from behind the 3-point circle, in Thursday’s game, but shot a mere 28.1 percent from the floor.When the Hilltoppers tried to keep up, they struggled. When they settled into their half-court offense, the Bears were no match.“We got out early, then we started to say ‘let’s play with them instead of having them play with us,’” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “They outscored us in the second quarter…we quit attacking the basket and got some silly fouls.”After hitting 10 of 16 from the field in the first quarter, during which Los Alamos built up a 27-7 advantage, Los Alamos started to cool off considerably, mostly when it started to take long jumpers around and behind the arc.When all was said and done, however, Los Alamos couldn’t complain too much about it shooting. For the game, it went 31-for-54 from the floor (57.4 percent).Alex Kirk, Nik Allen and Ben Allen all finished in double digits Thursday. Kirk paced all scorers with 18 points, knocking in 8 of 10 from the field.Nik Allen added 14 points, 11 in the first quarter to help the ’Toppers pick up the big edge, and Ben Allen had 11 points, missing just one shot from the floor.Ben Allen provided much of the spark for the ’Toppers early, grabbing steals on two consecutive Wingate possessions in the first quarter, both of which were converted on the other end. Allen also had a loud rejection on a shot by Wingate’s Sam Whitehair, not to mention slapping the ball away from Wingate’s ball handlers on three other occasions.Twin brother Nik Allen, for his part early in the game, was hitting shots from all angles, including a 3-pointer that started to break the game open.Thursday’s win was the fifth straight for Los Alamos (7-1), which has been firing on all cylinders during this extended road trip.“We’re playing good,” Nik Allen said. “We’re getting better every game. That’s the important part.”Los Alamos has gotten some good production out of its bench in recent games, and Thursday was no exception.Mike Matteson and Alan Trujillo turned in some quality minutes Thursday. The two combined for 14 points off the bench on 5 of 6 shooting.All 12 of the Hilltoppers that traveled Thursday got into the game, with 11 of them scoring, continuing a happy trend of the Hilltoppers spreading the ball around.Alex Kirk finished with nine rebounds and five blocked shots, but Kirk got in some foul trouble early in the second half and had to sit for several minutes in the third and fourth quarters.With Kirk seated and Wingate crashing the boards hard throughout, Los Alamos struggled rebounding, about the only thing the ’Toppers weren’t happy with.“We’ve got to box out, especially when Alex is out,” Nik Allen said. “When they’re looking to crash the board, we’ve got to get after them.”

NOTES: Also on Thursday, Pojoaque downed Peñasco 91-63 and will face Los Alamos in the 8:15 p.m. semifinal, while Marin Catholic (Calif.) knocked off Mora 71-44 and Socorro got by Dulce 65-60. Marin Catholic and Socorro meet in the 7 p.m. semifinal. The winners of the semifinal games tonight meet Saturday at 8:15 p.m. for the tournament title.