Prep basketball: ’Toppers visit Farmington in state tourney 1st round

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By Jose Corral

Los Alamos boys basketball coach Mike Kluk said there was a sense of relief when Farmington popped up as the No. 3 seed for the Class 5A state tournament.
The 14-seeded Hilltoppers will travel to face No. 3 Farmington in the first round at 6 p.m. Saturday in Farmington.
“I don’t think we’ll have any surprises from Farmington,” Kluk said. “They are who they are. And we are who we are. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
There wasn’t any surprise when Los Alamos received the 14 seed, but the sense of relief came after the Hilltoppers knew that they weren’t going to face District 2-5A foes No. 4 Española Valley and No. 2 Capital in the first round.
With the exception of its first game against the Sundevils, Los Alamos struggled to deal with the speedy and much more explosive teams that topped District 2-5A. Farmington doesn’t have the same type of speed that hurt Los Alamos during district play.
“(Farmington) is a completely different team from an Española or a Capital,” Kluk said. “We match against them better. The smaller quicker and aggressive teams have a tendency to give us fits. I don’t think Farmington is that much quicker than us.”
The thing Farmington does have is size. The Scorpions, who might be one of the state’s few teams that can match Los Alamos’ size, used that post presence to stream roll through District 1-5A and garner Class 5A’s best overall record. Farmington is 25-3 overall and won the outright District 1-5A championship.
The Scorpions like to play through the inside but when it’s not working, they rely on an athletic backcourt that has the ability to knockdown shots from the perimeter.
“Our posts are going to have to play physical,” Kluk said. “We think we can play pretty well with Farmington. We both have good size and there’s not much difference.”
Trying to cut the looks that Farmington’s senior forward Sol Rascon gets will be key for a Los Alamos defense that struggled late in the regular season and gave up 58.5 points per game in district play.
Offensively, Kluk said the regular season’s game plan of getting the ball inside will stay the same for the postseason. Like in many games this season, ball security will give Los Alamos its best shot at succeeding on offense.
If the Hilltoppers can limit the turnovers, they’ll have an opportunity to slow down the pace and run their offense. But if turnovers continue to be a problem for Los Alamos, Farmington will have an easy time avoiding the first-round upset.
“The keys don’t change for us,” Kluk said. “We have to take care of the ball. If we get 20 turnovers, we’re not going to win.”
Both teams saw each other in a consolation game at the Poe Corn Tournament in Roswell on Dec. 30. The Scorpions capitalized on Los Alamos’ poor shooting performance and came out with a 55-39 victory.
“For a lot of the game we played pretty well with them,” Kluk said of the team’s previous meeting. “But we just started off bad and got behind early.”
Although Farmington piled up a Class 5A-high 23 wins, its weak strength of schedule kept the Scorpions from getting either of the top two seeds. Maxpreps.com rated Farmington’s strength of schedule as the weakest in Class 5A, as the Scorpions had six wins against Class 4A teams.
The disparity of the team’s respective districts can also play a factor. Farmington played in a district that took four teams to the state tournament. But two of those teams are the final two seeds (No. 16 Bloomfield, No. 15 Gallup). The other is No. 9 Kirtland Central.
There are also four District 2-5A teams in the state tournament field, including two of the top five seeds (No. 2 Capital, No. 4 Española Valley). Del Norte was seeded 13th.
It’s evident that the Hilltoppers spent the last six weeks in the superior district. But Kluk doesn’t buy into the notion that it’ll give his team an advantage for Saturday.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to help us,” Kluk said. “But I’m happier with this matchup than I’m with Capital.”