SANTA FE — Going from 17 points down to 24 points up, the West Las Vegas boys’ basketball team rivaled the stock market for dramatic shifts in Wednesday night’s 76-52 win at Santa Fe Indian School’s Pueblo Pavilion.
West (2-0) struggled early and fell behind by a 23-6 count late in the first quarter.
By halftime, the Dons had begun to climb out of the hole, chopping the deficit to 37-29.
West scored nine straight points to open the third quarter for the first of two game-changing runs. That first run made it a neck-and-neck contest, which it would remain for the duration of the quarter.
The second — a span of 21 uninterrupted points by West Las Vegas — left the Braves wondering what happened.
So what did happen?
“The only thing we did, the only adjustment we made, was emphasizing what we teach,” said WLV head coach Ernie Rodriguez when asked about halftime changes against his former team.
“Our guys were emotional going into the game. Our guys wanted to play well for Lucas (Rodriguez, Ernie’s son and one of the Dons captains), with all his history with Santa Fe Indian. But we were rushing things and we came out tight.”
The solution, Rodriguez said, was to relax a bit.
“We settled down,” he said. “We made sure the focus was on what was between the lines. Once we did that, we were fine.”
A tale of two halves? Absolutely, particularly for Dons wing Joe Ortiz, who finished with a game-high 27 points.
Ortiz struggled to find his shooting touch in the first part of the game, and he seemed uncharacteristically out of sync as the Dons worked their rotations on offense.
Making matters worse for West, the Braves came out shooting (and connecting) from the perimeter. Derek Phillips, Robert Calabaza and Todd Torivio each hit three-pointers as SFIS pumped its lead up to 25-8 by the end of the first period.
While the effort was there for the Dons, the Braves had better success crashing the boards for both offensive and defensive rebounds.
“The only thing amazing was that we were down 17,” Rodriguez said. “They were playing H-O-R-S-E in that first half, and part of that was because we didn’t get anybody on them defensively.”
But by midway through the second quarter, the momentum had begun to shift for both Ortiz and his teammates.
Miguel Sena hit a long jump shot for West, and after a defensive stop, Ortiz scored off an inbounds pass from D.J. Bustos, drawing a foul in the process. Ortiz hit the foul shot to make it 30-18 with 4:58 to go before halftime.
Calabaza answered with a three, but Sebastian Bustos swished a long-range shot of his own.
Victor Ulibarri knocked down a three with a couple minutes left in the half to get West within single digits, and Ortiz sank two free throws with 30 seconds left to make the halftime margin 37-29.
Pancho Caro connected on two foul shots to begin West’s 9-0 run to start the second half, and Ortiz went on a tear.
First he scored on a layup, assisted by D.J. Bustos.
Then after the Dons knocked the ball loose from the Braves on the ensuing inbounds play, Caro dished the ball to Ortiz for another bucket.
Then it happened again. An SFIS turnover led to a West shot, offensive rebound and putback for Ortiz, tying the game at 37-37.
The visitors took their first lead of the evening, however briefly, on a Caro free throw with 5:53 left in the third period.
After a couple of ties and a couple lead changes, West carried a 47-46 edge into the final quarter.
Lucas Rodriguez bought the visitors some breathing room with a pair of free throws before Calabaza answered in kind, cutting the margin to 49-48. Rodriguez made an off-the-glass layin to make the score 51-48 and starting a 21-point surge that put the game out of reach.
Six different Dons — Rodriguez, Sebastian Bustos, Adrian Valdez, Ortiz, Jose Juan Montaño and Caro — scored in that run.
Ulibarri added a couple of baskets late off feeds from D.J. Bustos and then Montaño to close the contest.
In addition to Ortiz’s game-high 27, the Dons got 10 from Sebastian Bustos, nine from Caro, eight from Valdez, seven from Ulibarri, six from Rodriguez, five from Montaño and four from Sena.
Santa Fe Indian was led by Calabaza with 12 and Phillips with eight.
WLV will play at Tucumcari on Tuesday.