By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
RIO RANCHO — Clovis traveled to Rio Rancho on Thursday for the opening round of the 5th annual Mel Otero Invitational. While the beginning of the girls basketball game wasn’t ideal for the Wildcats, the end turned out fine thanks to a versatile performance from junior Aimee Hilburn.
In a 68-45 victory over Las Cruces High, Hilburn scored 16 points and dished out nine assists for Clovis (5-0). If that wasn’t enough, the 6-foot-1 forward also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five Bulldawgs’ shots.
Since the ’Cats struggled with 12 first-half turnovers against the Las Cruces press, Hilburn’s performance had Clovis coach Miles Watters thinking of readjustments after the game.
“She’s our best ball handler out there. Hey, we may have to her move to the point (guard position),” Watters said. “I’m serious. She sets people up, she gets the ball where it’s supposed to be.”
Many of Hilburn’s assists ended up in the hands of teammate Brittany Blackmon, who led all players with 25 points.
Watters was also pondering the ability of his defense after watching the Bulldawgs — much smaller than Clovis at almost every position — slice their way frequently to the basket en route to a 16-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“Maybe we’re getting exposed. Maybe we’re just not very quick,” Watters said. “We thought we could get out and play some man (defense). After watching tonight, I’m not so sure.”
Las Cruces (1-5) led 18-17 early in the second period when Hilburn found senior guard Melissa Roberts cutting into the middle. After the Roberts’ bucket, Clovis scored eight more points in a row to take a 25-17 advantage.
Roberts, after the game, expressed surprise that the Bulldawgs decided to press Clovis early on.
“I was. I didn’t think they would press. But, then again, they have a lot of speed, so we should have expected it,” Roberts said.
Early in the second half, the Wildcats stretched a 36-26 lead to 20 points when a Blackmon’s score kicked off a 10-0 run. In that stretch, Hilburn put back a Clovis miss and assisted on two more Blackmon shots.
“We came out and were ready to play, but we really weren’t all that focused,” said Hilburn of the slow start. “They were quick. But, I think in the second half, we did a better job of containing them and making them stay outside.”
Clovis earned the right to play Los Lunas in the semifinal round on Friday.
It’ll be a rematch of last year’s state regional game when the Wildcats eliminated the Tigers in Clovis.
“Well, we got the first one in,” Watters said. “Maybe we’ll blow it up and play a little bit better tomorrow.”