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Gallup never in a hurry

Pitched at an angle more suitable for downhill skiing, the ramp leading to the court at The Pit in Albuquerque can be a slippery slope for any high school basketball team.

Many a team has had to climb back up this steep, cement pathway from the locker rooms to the court after falling victim to the legendary surroundings and the pressure of the state tournament.

Never mind a team that starts three sophomores and counts two other underclassman as key reserves, or that they’re playing a Gallup team that is backed by one of the largest and most vocal crowds in the state.

The Clovis Lady Wildcats are far from a capricious bunch when it comes to playing basketball.

“I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed,” said Clovis coach Miles Watters. “I think the young players will bask in this kind of environment of playing in front of a hostile crowd.

“You can’t emulate playing in The Pit or playing for a state championship, but a lot of these kids have been in a lot of big situations before,” Watters said. “Some kids just like to compete. And I think we have a core group of players who want to compete.”

Sophomore starters Aimee Hilburn, Brittany Blackmon and Tori Quintana have played in five national AAU tournaments, he noted.

Freshman backup guard Tori Northcutt, another AAU veteran, expects butterflies as big as bats rumbling around her stomach when she takes the court today.

“I know I’m going to be nervous,” said Northcutt, who played all 32 minutes in last week’s regional game against Los Lunas in place of the injured Quintana. “I’m just hoping I don’t miss the basket or slam the ball off the backboard in the layup drills.”

Clovis (26-3) and Gallup (18-8) have been state tournament mainstays, although both were eliminated in regionals last season.

Backed by thousands of orange-and-black-clad fans that travel better than no-wrinkle Docker pants, the Bengals can be a nightmare matchup with their deliberate style of play under longtime coach Johnny Lomansey.

“I don’t change for anybody,” Lomansey said. “If you look back at film from 15 or 18 years ago, we play the same offense, the same defense.

“We just play hard and take what the other team gives us.”

Lots of times that’s a 3-pointer as even Gallup’s posts are excellent shooters, or a backcut to the basket as the Bengals will pass the ball up to a dozen times before taking a shot.

“We’re not playing as much against the players as we’re playing against the system,” Watters said. “Most of our kids have never seen that style of play.”

But the Lady Wildcats have shown the ability to harass teams into submission with a man-to-man defense, although Watters said he plans to give Gallup multiple looks on defense.

“Our team is good enough overall to win playing any style,” said Watters, who won 11 state titles in 15 years at Clayton in the 1980s and ’90s. “I think it’s more a question of can they handle us and our pressure for 32 minutes.”

Watters knows firsthand what Gallup’s style and crowd can do to a team.

In his first season at Clovis, Gallup pounded the Lady Wildcats 47-25 en route to its third state title since 1994. The Bangals led 18-3 at halftime.

“That was a different set of circumstances,” Watters said. “We were overwhelmed by their talent and the situation.

“But this team is different. We really go after people.”

Clovis has a distinct advantage inside behind Blackmon and seniors Monique Walker and Jessica Hohn, who have bludgeoned teams in the paint and on the boards. But Lomansey hardly seems worried.

“I know they’re tough inside, but our whole district was strong inside,” Lomansey said. “We’re just going to try hard and try to eliminate mistakes.”

Clovis also will be bolstered by the return of Quintana, the Lady Wildcats’ floor leader and best outside shooter.

She missed the Los Lunas game for precautionary reasons after suffering a concussion, but was cleared Tuesday to play.

Game day

Class 5A


at University Arena


Clovis (26-3) vs.

Gallup (18-8), 3:30 p.m.

Last state tournament appearance: Clovis, 2002, lost to Gallup in semifinals. Gallup, 2002, won state title.

How they got here: Clovis beat Los Lunas 53-44 in regionals. Gallup beat Sandia 37-28 in regionals.

Coaches: Clovis, Miles Watters, 3rd year. Gallup, Johnny Lomansey, 22nd.

Players to watch: Gallup, Stephanie Jones, 5-7, Sr., F (14 ppg); Lia Kinlicheeney, 5-5, Sr., G, 10 ppg). Clovis, Monique Walker, 5-9, Sr., P (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Aimee Hilburn, 5-11, So., F (11.8 ppg, 5.1 apg).

The skinny: Gallup loves to control the tempo and shoot the 3 while Clovis relies on a dominant inside game.

Did you know: Gallup lost three of four meetings with Rio Rancho in district play.

By the numbers: Clovis is making its 22ndstraight state playoff appearance.

Radio: KKYC-FM102.3, KCLV-AM 1240

Quotable: “At times I think we’re the best team in the state. And at times I think we’re the worst. It’s been a strange year.” Gallup coach Johnny Lomansey.

Rio Rancho (22-3) vs.

Mayfield (24-1), 5:30 p.m.

Last state tournament appearance: Rio Rancho, 2003, lost to La Cueva in semifinals. Mayfield, 2003, lost to Hobbs in semifinals.

How they got here: Rio Rancho beat La Cueva 64-42 in regionals. Mayfield beat Eldorado 65-37 in regionals.

Coaches: Rio Rancho, Bobby McIntire, 7th. Mayfield, George Maya, 9th.

Players to watch: Rio Rancho, Brio Rode, 5-11, Sr., G (17.7 ppg, 5.5 apg); Nicole Tatum, 5-10, Jr., P (12 ppg, 6 rpg). Mayfield, Carissa McGee, 5-9, Fr., F (13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg); Krystal Torres, 5-6, Jr., G (12.1 ppg).

The skinny: Rio Rancho prefers the pace of the game to be slow. Mayfield wants to go, go, go.

Did you know: Brio Rode has signed to play college basketball with the University of California.

By the numbers: Mayfield started the season 21-0.

Quotable: “We’re going to play the same way we always play. We’re going to run and trap and try to make it as fast and ugly a game as we can.” — Mayfield coach George Maya.