Prep boys hoops: ‘Toppers win second straight, down Academy

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LA jumps to third in District 2-5A standings, sweeps Academy

By Jose Corral

Back-to-back wins have put the Los Alamos boys basketball team in position to make a realistic push at the District 2-5A regular season title.
For the second straight game, the Hilltoppers executed in the post and from the perimeter en route to a 63-53 win against Albuquerque Academy Wednesday at Griffith Gym.
“The (post players) finished the ones they needed to,” Los Alamos coach Mike Kluk said. “This is the way they have to play. We’re very much an inside-outside team. We need to be going inside and if nothing is there, we throw it back to the outside and guards knock down 3s. If we don’t do that, we’re not near as good.”
Los Alamos improved to 11-12 overall but more importantly moved to 3-3 in District 2-5A, where the Hilltoppers sit in third place and half a game behind Española Valley.
“We thought we would be a game or two better than what we are right now,” Kluk said. “If we cant Española to beat Capital again, Capital will have two losses. Then if we could somehow get a win here, everybody will have three losses and then it gets jumbled. But we’ll be in the thick of it.”
The inside-outside game that Kluk was looking for earlier in the season is starting to show up. Los Alamos easily has the biggest post presence in the district but that size is irrelevant if the guards can’t get the ball inside. The Hilltoppers were able to do that in their big Monday win against Española and they did it again Wednesday.
“We’ve been waiting for this all year,” Kluk said. “The guards throw into the (post players) then the (post players) will try to skip to the guards for open 3s. We had plenty of open looks tonight.”
Los Alamos’ ability to get the ball towards the paint opened up the perimeter and helped the Hilltoppers start the game on a 6-0 run. Academy didn’t have answer for the inside-outside game, as Jack Stewart was left alone and knocked down a 3-pointer to extend Los Alamos’ lead to 15-7 with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
The Chargers began to make a push on offense and cut the Hilltoppers lead to 23-19 with 5:33 left in the second quarter. But a pair of Isaac Fason free throws grew Los Alamos’ lead to 29-19 with 1:03 remaining in the first half.
Hilltoppers senior forward Adam Paulson provided an offense spark in the third quarter. Paulson found space near the paint and terrorized the Academy defense for 11 points in the third frame. Two of those points came after a long full-court pass from Ramon Roybal that led to a Paulson layup to extend the Hilltoppers lead to 39-27 with 3:34 left in the quarter. Paulson converted a bucket and was fouled seconds before the end of the quarter to give Los Alamos a 46-32 lead heading into the fourth.
“I thought he (Paulson) was going to fall asleep before the game then he comes out and plays great,” Kluk said. “This was a good game for him. Adam stepped up big today. You keep putting him in games because at anytime he’s capable of doing that.”
The Hilltoppers did have some trouble closing out the game and Academy cut the lead to single digits in the final frame. Before Roybal and Ryan O’malia traded 3-pointers, Markus Parish trimmed the Los Alamos lead to 59-53 with 19 seconds left after converting a three-point play. Academy didn’t have enough time to extend its comeback effort, as the Hilltoppers sealed the sweep against Academy from the free throw line.
Parrish paced the Chargers with 15 points, while Derek Purcella added 12.
Los Alamos finished with four players in double figures, as Paulson tallied a team-high 15 points and Fason and Troy Hammock added 12, respectively. Antonio Trujillo continued his stellar guard play and helped out with 10 points.
The Hilltoppers will have a few days to prepare for their district defining matchup against Española at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Valley.
“Usually, if you have a top scorer, they (Española) will go box-one on you to try to offset what you’re doing. We don’t have that one person because we can go inside then go back outside,” Kluk said. “If we win it, that’s another good quality win, which will give us more of a resume.”  
Injury update: Stewart didn’t see any action in the second half of Wednesday’s game after re-aggravating an ankle injury during the first half. Kluk said he’s not sure if Stewart will miss any practice or game time.
Junior center Ivan Balakirev didn’t play against Academy, as he’s nursing an ankle sprain suffered against Española.
Junior forward Michael Naranjo missed his third straight game. Naranjo last played against Capital on Jan. 31, after missing 10 days due to a concussion. Now, Naranjo is being sidelined by an illness, according to Kluk.       
District 2-5A getting tight: The marquee matchup in district play will be Saturday, as second place Española will host first place Capital. The Jaguars control their own destiny, and a win Saturday would edge them even closer to the regular season title and the top seed for the district tournament.   
A Sundevils win would make the district standings messy and would put them in the driver’s seat. Española won the first meeting and a win Saturday will give it the tiebreak if both teams end up with matching records.
Meanwhile, a momentum-filled Los Alamos team with three losses awaits both Española and Capital in the final week of regular season play.