West Las Vegas girls’ basketball coach Jose “Majic” Medina had seen it before — a Lady Dons team falling behind by a few points in a big game, getting caught up in the moment, its collective confidence shaken, and letting a small deficit turn into a gaping chasm from which there would be no escape.
Not this time.
The Lady Dons on Friday won one of the biggest games in program history, prevailing 72-55 against Lovington at Gillie Lopez Gym. Both teams shared the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A girls’ basketball according to Wednesday’s New Mexico High School Coaches’ Association poll. The win, coupled with Saturday’s 66-36 blowout of host Dexter, should make WLV (12-1) stand alone atop the state rankings this coming week.
“It’s a big win,” said Medina, “because it’s a good test. There’s always room for improvement. Making free throws, making outside shots, we have to get better ... But it’s a good win. Our girls are starting to believe in themselves, in their teammates and in the program.”
On Friday, West started strong and led 23-18 midway through the second quarter. But the Lady Wildcats, sparked by consecutive three-point bombs from Mystica Perez and Kenzie Black, scored 10 straight points to take control. A couple of bad passes and rebounds of errant shots ended up in the hands of the strong-rebounding Lovington players. And so it appeared as though West’s early momentum — built on effort as much as talent — was history.
Lovington ended the half on a 5-0 run to go up 33-26.
“We got lax on defense and being aggressive on the offensive end in that second quarter,” Medina said. “They hit some big threes on us.”
“We got on them a little bit at halftime. We told them we have to come out with energy, with intensity and we have to attack the basket.”
The Lady Dons’ first shot of the second half did not fall, but Miranda Martinez — one of the shorter players on the floor at 5-3 — hustled to retrieve the ball. She scooped it up and in for two points. Teammate Linda Esquibel was next to score, swishing two foul shots. Unable to hit its own shots on the other end, Lovington tightened its interior defense, isolating Lady Don post Vanessa Lucero at the top of the key after a pass by Brianna Montaño. Lucero paused only momentarily before launching a three-pointer. The long shot swished neatly through the net. Then after another bad Wildcat shot, Esquibel hurried down and sent up her own three-pointer, also good. Esquibel swiped the ball away on the next possession, driving back for a layup.
The sequence turned a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead for WLV. It also pumped up the confidence of a Lady Dons squad learning how to be a front-runner.
Led by Esquibel and Lucero, who had — with Martinez’s help — effectively countered Lovington’s prolific rebounding, West scored another eight in a row to go up 49-37, and it was 49-39 at the end of the third period.
West didn’t let up in the fourth. Martinez assisted Lucero, then dished a no-look pass to Montaño, who scored and drew a foul. Her completion of the three-point play extended the Lady Don lead to 54-39. Black hit a three for Lovington in the quarter, but the Cats never managed a serious rally down the stretch. With 52 seconds left, West was playing a lineup of reserves, who capably maintained the comfortable lead.
Medina said he came into the game wary of the Cats’ ability to control a game through rebounding prowess. “They’re too good an offensive team,” he said. “We knew we had to get rebounds and steals.”
Lucero scored eight points in each of the first and last quarters and finished with 25 total; she also had a couple of key blocked shots.
Esquibel also tallied 25, and she was 11 for 11 from the charity stripe. Martinez added 11 points; Krystle Montaño 4; Brianna Montaño 3; and freshman Cecelia Gutierrez and Victoria Lopez had two apiece.
For Lovington, Perez scored 22; Black had 17; Morgan Homer 10; Chanley Clayton, Natasha Nash and Meaghan Moore had two each.
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WLV followed Friday’s victory with a quick trip south to Dexter, where the Lady Dons won 66-36. Esquibel and Brianna Montaño led all scorers with 17 points apiece. Lucero and Michelle Montaño had eight each, and Cecelia Gutierrez scored six.
West dominated from the start and led 10-5 after one period, 28-12 at halftime, and 40-18 through three quarters.
The team visits Class 5A Santa Fe High on Monday evening.
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West Las Vegas’ boys were scheduled to play Ruidoso on Saturday, but that game was rescheduled to Monday evening.