With four players 5-foot-10 or taller, and not a single player shorter than 5-5, La Cueva’s players sometimes loses sight of how tall they are compared to other teams in New Mexico.
They needed a half to figure it out, then used it for a dominant defensive performance in the second half of a 41-32 win Monday to open the Plateau Holiday Classic at Rock Staubus Gym.
Guard Aimee Kelly had 12 to lead the Bears (6-3), who move on to Tuesday’s semifinals against either Clovis or Shiprock.
The defense forced Portales into 18 turnovers on the day, and without a field goal for the final 10:42 as the Bears took advantage of their height and started fronting the shorter Portales players on their interior defense.
“They can have three kids out there who are about six feet, and their guards are also good,” Portales coach Clay Stout said. “It’s hard to keep them from (creating) mismatches.”
It wasn’t that type of atmosphere early on, as neither could overcome early-morning sluggishness or a pair of pressure half-court defenses that made baskets hard to come by.
“We try to have an intense, in your face, make the other team make a mistake type of defense,” said La Cueva coach Abbie Carlson, a former University of New Mexico guard who moved up from an assistant position last season.
Sophomore post Macy Mitchell had 16 points to lead Portales, and had the final basket for the Lady Rams (4-3) with 2:42 left in the third period to tie things up. Bears guard Shayla Malecki’s only field goal 1:30 later gave La Cueva the lead for good in a contest that featured four ties and 13 lead changes.
Along with Kelly, the Bears slowly pulled away with the inside-out game of 5-11 post Sydney Kemper and 5-5 guard Erica Baca — one of few players on the current roster to see significant playing time with last year’s champs. Both Kemper and Baca had nine points for the Bears, winners of four straight.
“Our offense started clicking,” Carlson said. “We’ve been working on it, but it’s hard to only run it against yourselves.”
While the Bears are glad to run stuff out of practice, Portales is trying to treat this tournament of Class 5A and 4A squads as lessons for District 4-3A play.
“We’re really treating these games as practice,” Stout said. “We can’t practice against this good of competition.”