Any number of boys basketball coaches would tell you how difficult the freelancing Sandia Matadors are to guard.
But No. 2-ranked Sandia perhaps doesn’t earn near enough kudos for its defensive prowess.
The Matadors went into West Mesa’s gym on Wednesday night and held the fourth-ranked Mustangs well below their season average, received some key 3-pointers from Dalen Moyer and Andrew Hill after halftime, and in the process scored an important 63-51 victory as the District 2-5A schedule reached its midway point.
“This was a huge game,” Sandia coach Danny Brown said. “Now we have to focus on Farmington (Saturday). We go up there and it’s gonna be a tough one. Every game (in this district) is a challenge.” The 2-5A standings had three teams — Sandia, West Mesa and Eldorado — tied for first place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
By 9 p.m., there was only one team at the top, that being the Matadors (17-4, 4-1).
West Mesa (15-6, 3-2), La Cueva (13-8, 3-2) and Eldorado (13-8, 3-2) share second place, this after the Bears went into Eldorado and topped the Eagles 57-47 on Wednesday night. Josiah Guliford had 26 points for La Cueva and was a perfect 13-for-13 from the line, and Cam Dyer added 14 points for the Bears.
As for West Mesa, it came into Wednesday averaging 65 points a game. But the Mustangs ran hot and cold from the floor, on top of the defensive issues Sandia creates with its pressing style.
Still, the Mustangs were about to carry a comfortable lead to halftime before Sandia turned up the heat a bit defensively, and turned a 9-point deficit into just a four-point margin, 28-24, by the half.
“I honestly thought it started those last 30 seconds, 40 seconds of that second quarter,” Brown said. “We went on a little run and it carried over to the second half. The guys got after it.”
The game was extremely tight midway through the third quarter; Darian Lucero buried a 3 for the Mustangs for a 34-33 lead, but Moyer countered at the other end with a 3 of his own. Sandia led 36-34 and did not trail again.
Moyer, who finished with 14 points, connected on another 3 moments later to counter Brandon Lagunas’ 3 for West Mesa, and it kept momentum from shifting to the Mustangs.
“I just caught it and was feeling good,” said Moyer, who recently committed to Northern New Mexico College in Española. “I just catch and shoot, that’s what coach always tells me to do. Bring the energy.”
In the fourth quarter, it was Hill, who led the Matadors with 20 points, who supplied the long-range marksmanship.
The left-hander buried two 3s in the fourth quarter to keep the Mustangs at bay. West Mesa at one point had climbed to within a point at 45-44 on a Lagunas 3 early in the quarter. Sandia scored the next six.
Ely Lovato scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half for Sandia.
“I also thought we made them a little bit tired,” Brown said. “They’re hard to guard and we tired them out a little bit.”
Elijah Brody led the Mustangs with 15 points.
SANDIA 63, WEST MESA 51 SANDIA (17-4, 4-1 in 2-5A): Andrew Hill 20, Dalen Moyer 15, Thomas Adams 5, Lamarion Coleman 6, Ely Lovato 15, Mason Howell 3. Totals 22 11-14 63. WEST MESA (15-6, 3-2): Elijah Brody 15, Brandon Lagunas 9, Elijah Espinosa 2, Sonny Ortiz 7, Donovan Cruz 11, Darian Lucero 7. Totals 20 4-9 51. Sandia 9 15 21 18 — 63 West Mesa 14 14 13 10 — 51 3-point goals: S 8 (Hill 3, Moyer 3, Adams, Lovato); WM 7 (Lagunas 3, Cruz 2, Lucero, Ortiz). Total fouls: S 14; WM 13.