LOS LUNAS — Better, deeper, healthier. Los Lunas had the edge across the board in an early-season showdown between two of New Mexico’s premier girls basketball teams.
The Class 5A Tigers roughed up visiting West Mesa on Monday night, getting excellent guard play throughout and pulling away for a 65-49 victory.
“They have players that won 21 games in a row last (season),” Los Lunas coach Marty Zeller said of West Mesa.
Indeed, the Tigers (3-1) already have beaten three teams — Centennial, Mayfield, West Mesa — that beat them early last season, and that Los Lunas squad got all the way to the 5A state final.
“We were close last year,” said Los Lunas senior guard Amber Trujillo, who scored a game-best 18 points. “This year, we feel more confident. We know each other better and we click better.”
With Zeller running players onto the floor one, two and even three at a time in rapid-fire fashion, Los Lunas appeared to wear down West Mesa, which had several starters in foul trouble and a thin bench.
Moreover, Mustangs junior guard Esperanza Varoz, although she returned to the lineup for the first time in nine months, was a nonfactor. The team’s best player injured her knee last February and was not in on the team’s playoff games. Varoz’s minutes were closely monitored and rationed, and she finished with two points.
West Mesa (1-1) led 16-8 late in the first quarter, only to see Los Lunas go on an extended 14-0 run. Late in the first half, Jazmin Cordova of West Mesa buried two late 3s to tie the game at 32 at halftime.
Trujillo had her team’s first five of the third quarter, including a crucial 3 that came at the end of a five-shot sequence for Los Lunas, and the Tigers opened the second half on a 7-0 run and didn’t look back.
Junior point guard Marissa Weldon added 14 points for Los Lunas, which shot 23-of-33 from the line, compared to 5-of-12 for West Mesa. Cordova led the Mustangs with 15 points.
For the Tigers, this was not even their most important game of the week. They visit another 5A power, Bloomfield, on Thursday.
Of note, there was a ball mishap in this game. With the correct basketball, West Mesa shot 9-of-14 from the arc in the first half. But a boys-sized ball was accidentally put into play to start the second half, and the mistake was not caught until the fourth quarter. The Mustangs were 1-of-9 from long range after halftime.
The debut of much-ballyhooed Sandia guard Viané Cumber will be delayed a year. The freshman, who already has no fewer than five Division I offers, has torn her ACL and will not play a single minute for the defending state champions this season. Cumber will have surgery next month, Sandia coach Lee Kettig said.