ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The time to start proving they’re worth all the hoopla is now.
Highland’s boys basketball team, the preseason No. 1 in Class 5A, set up another encounter with Manzano by winning Friday’s District 5-5A tournament semifinal at Rio Grande, 61-48.
It will be the third meeting between the two this season, with top-ranked Monarchs having won the first two. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Manzano.
Future Lobo and current Highland standout Chad Adams said the key to ending that skid is avoiding the kind of pitfall that usually gets the Hornets into trouble.
“We have to play four quarters against them because if we don’t, they’ll beat us again,” he said. “It takes all 32 minutes against a team like that.”
The Hornets (23-5) built an early 14-point lead in Friday’s game as Adams excelled. He scored half of his team’s points as the Hive took a 28-14 advantage midway through the second quarter.
Such a position is nothing new for Highland. The Hornets are known for starting fast – and letting off the accelerator in the second half.
That scenario played true in this case. Behind Gabe Sanchez, the Ravens got within a point in the third quarter before fading down the stretch.
“I take full blame for this loss because we had three days of bad practices coming into this game,” said Rio Grande coach Wally Salata. “The kids knew they were going to (the state tournament) win or lose. As a coach, you have to wonder if that has an impact because the urgency isn’t there. You wonder if they would have worked harder had they known they had to win this game to advance.”
At 16-11, Rio Grande is at the mercy of the NMAA selection committee. Pairings for the state tournament will be revealed Sunday.
Salata said his team likely cost itself a coveted top-eight seed. The top eight play at home in the first-round games scheduled for March 7.
“Right now I see us going anywhere from 9 to 12,” he said. “Highland, I see them maybe as high as a 2.”
Highland coach Danny Brown didn’t address the tournament afterward. He was more concerned with Manzano, a team that increased its margin of victory over the Hornets in the second meeting.
“They just make you play the way they want you to, which means they make things uncomfortable,” he said.
Rio Grande tried to do that against Adams but failed miserably. Brown isolated his star forward at the top of the key in the second half, giving Adams the ability to draw a post defender out of the lane in order to create a shot off the dribble.
The ploy worked as Adams finished with 32 points and seven rebounds. He also was 12-for-12 from the line and scored 14 points after Rio closed to within 37-36.
What he didn’t do, Eric Watson and Marcus Franco did at the other end. They teamed to hassle Ravens guard Gabe Sanchez into a frustrating close to an otherwise solid outing.
Franco said he was approached by Sanchez in the waning moments.
“He told me I should let him shoot a couple 3-pointers,” Franco said. “I told him I just couldn’t do it.”
Sanchez finished with 24 points but had only one 3-pointer.