Lady Cats survive slowdown

Clovis’ Aimee Hilburn attempts to put back a rebound for a basket during the second half of Saturday’s game against Rio Rancho in the Clovis State Farm Classic. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Averaging nearly 60 points a game, the Clovis High Lady Wildcats found a way to win Saturday night with scoring at a premium.

Clovis held Rio Rancho without a field goal for more than 10 minutes and eventually pulled away to a 34-22 win over the Rams in the State Farm Classic at Rock Staubus Gym.

Nobody reached double figures for either team, but the Lady Cats (18-2) kept a firm handle on the game most of the way.

Their stifling man-to-man defense forced Rio Rancho (12-6) to go 0-for-9 from 3-point range, one night after the Rams converted nine treys against Roswell High — including a buzzer-beater from about 30 feet by freshman guard Megan Muniz that gave her team a 48-46 victory over the Lady Coyotes.

Rio Rancho coach Bob McIntyre had his team spread the court for most of the game, but the Lady Cats were able to foil the strategy by maintaining a bit of a cushion throughout.

“I think we’re going to see that a lot more,” CHS girls coach Miles Watters said. “We’re going to have to step up and be able to hit some perimeter shots.”

Sophomore Ebony Bunton finished with eight points for the Lady Cats, while senior Aimee Hilburn and junior Tori Northcutt had seven apiece. Melissa Hillenbrand was Rio Rancho’s high scorer with nine points.

Muniz, who had six 3-pointers and 20 points against Roswell, was shadowed most of the night by Northcutt and settled for six points.

“Our guards matched up and defended pretty well,” Watters said. “I thought T-bird (Northcutt) did an outstanding job on Muniz, and Ebony did a good job on the point guard (Stevie Puentes).

“What I was disappointed in was we’d bust our butts on defense and then come down and either throw it away or take a quick shot.”

Rio Rancho managed only three first throws in the opening period, but was within 8-6 after with 5:41 to go in the half after Ashley Rhoades scored on a rebound — the Rams’ first field goal in 14 attempts.

Hillenbrand’s basket on the first possession of the third quarter brought Rio Rancho to 15-12, but the Lady Cats got a pair of 3-pointers from Tori Quintana and two inside baskets from Brittany Blackmon to stretch the margin to 10 by the end of the period.

“There’s not much to say about that game,” said Hilburn, who struggled from the field but posted team highs of 10 rebounds and three assists. “We just had to play a lot of defense. I felt sorry for our guards on top; they really had to work on defense (against Rio Rancho’s guards), but they handled it well.

“I think we really handled their style well. Coach Mac did a good job; he always tries to throw something at us.”

Rio Rancho shot just 22 percent for the games, but McIntyre was pleased with the overall effort.

“If we make a couple of shots and keep (the margin) in the five-point range, then maybe late in the game we can try to trap them and get something out of it,” he said. “They’re definitely the best team in the state. They have all the pieces.

“When it’s all said and done, their kids get up and play hard man-to-man defense.”