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Prep basketball: Metro championships tip off Tuesday

One thing seems certain about the boys’ half of the Albuquerque Metro Basketball Championships, which begin this afternoon: While it certainly will produce a winner, it is unlikely to create a true pecking order of the metro’s best teams.

In a field top-heavy with talented teams, No. 1 seed Atrisco Heritage (7-1) has won seven straight after opening with a near buzzer-beating loss at Volcano Vista. The Jaguars own a head-to-head win over No. 4 seed Eldorado.

The Eagles (6-2), meanwhile, have a strong win over No. 2 seed Cleveland (9-3), and also defeated the No. 6 seed, Volcano Vista.

Cleveland and Albuquerque High (6-2), the 3 seed, both are looking to make their first serious inroads against the metro’s elite this week. The Bulldogs could get defending state champion Volcano Vista in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, with the Hawks having already beaten AHS two weeks ago in a close game.

Eight sites today are hosting a pair of games, at 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. (The full schedule appears on page B2).

One of the more intriguing first-round boys matchups has a pair of somewhat surprising 6-2 teams, No. 5 Sandia and No. 12 West Mesa, meeting in the Mustangs’ gym at 5:30 p.m. Manzano, off to a 5-2 start, is a 7 seed and visits No. 10 Valley at 5:30 p.m. today. The 8-9 game is Rio Rancho-La Cueva, at Atrisco.

Undefeated Cibola (9-0) is the No. 1 girls’ seed, followed by West Mesa (5-2), Rio Rancho (8-2) and Eldorado (5-2). The Eagles and new coach Rich Harbin face Harbin’s old school, Valley, in the first round today at AHS.

Atrisco Heritage, West Mesa, Volcano Vista and Valley are the sites for the boys today and Wednesday; the girls are at Rio Grande, Albuquerque High, Del Norte and Highland. There are eight quarterfinal games, one at each school, on Wednesday.

Cibola is hosting the girls’ semifinals at 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. on Friday, with Eldorado hosting the boys’ semis at the same times. The championship games Saturday — the boys at 4 p.m., the girls at 6 — are at Eldorado.

SALATA SUSPENDED: Rio Rancho will go the first two rounds of the tournament without head coach Wally Salata.

Salata has been suspended for two games, and declined to give a reason why. He coached Rio Rancho through the end of the Rams’ holiday tournament, which ended Friday night.

“I cannot talk about a personnel issue,” district athletic director Bruce Carver said. “Wally will be back … and I still have confidence that he can lead our program in the right direction.”

Salata, who coached the Rams to a state title in 2016, will return to the bench for the Rams’ third-round contest on Friday.

BROWN OUT: Las Cruces 6-foot-5 senior forward R.J. Brown has missed the last four-plus games with a broken finger, although Class 6A’s top-ranked and undefeated Bulldawgs (14-0) have done an excellent job soldiering on without him.

Brown broke the finger in a victory over visiting Cleveland on Dec. 15. He has missed the team’s last four games, including all three in the Village of Los Lunas holiday tournament last weekend.

Las Cruces coach William Benjamin said Brown is expected to miss four weeks, which would peg his return for Jan. 12.

Benjamin, however, said his priority is making sure Brown is ready for a huge district matchup with Oñate on Jan. 19. The Bulldawgs open District 3-6A play on Friday of this week.

NORTH TO ALASKA: While dozens of schools enjoyed holiday tournaments closer to home, the Navajo Prep boys and girls flew to Alaska, where the Eagles competed in the Clarke Cochran Christmas Classic in Ketchikan, in the extreme southeastern part of the state near the state’s border with British Columbia.

The boys lost two of their three games and finished seventh. The girls also went 1-2, and placed sixth.

TOURNAMENT WINNERS: Among the other champions of tournaments last weekend were: Roswell’s boys at the Poe Corn as the Coyotes downed Goddard; Hobbs’ boys, who beat Hirschi, Texas, in the final of the Eagles’ holiday event; the Las Cruces girls, who remained unbeaten at 14-0 (matching the Bulldawg boys) with a victory over Mayfield at the Holiday Hoopla Classic in Cruces; and the Piedra Vista girls and Clovis boys at Clovis’ events. The Clovis boys edged Belen. PV’s girls (now 11-1) overcame rival Farmington.