Lady Tigers down Clovis

Clovis freshmen center Antiesha Brown hustles for a loose ball as Aztec senior guard Charity Gillespie reaches for it at Rock Staubus Gym on Friday night. (Freedom Newspapers: Andy DeLisle)

By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer

What started as a scorer’s duel in the first half came down to defense and free throws as the Aztec girls basketball team beat Clovis 55-52 Friday night at Rock Staubus Gymnasium.

Records: Aztec 6-3, Clovis 5-3.

The difference: Senior guard Patricia Malouff hit a 3-pointer to give Aztec the lead for good at 48-47. The University of New Mexico track signee hit 4-of-5 free throws down the stretch as the Lady Tigers held off Clovis.

The difference-makers: Malouff finished with a game-high 37 points, including 20 in the first half, which ended with Clovis in front 31-28. Her big night included four 3-pointers. Junior guard Ebony Bunton hit four 3-pointers and scored 23 points for Clovis.

Last chance: After Malouff made one of two free throws with 18 seconds left, Clovis had one final chance. However, Bunton’s long 3-point attempt with three seconds left that would have tied the game hit the front of the rim.

Speaking: “I thought we really played well and hard the whole night,” Clovis coach Mile Watters said. “We just had to face a kid who was red hot. I thought we were defending her well.

“That’s probably the best individual performance I’ve seen since I’ve been here in Clovis.”

Court vision: Bunton’s passing had as much impact on the game as her shooting.

In the first quarter, Bunton sailed a pass to freshman Antiesha Brown, who skied for the ball and banked home a layup. Brown finished with 10 points.

Early in the fourth quarter, with Clovis down 43-42, Bunton found junior center Jasmine McDonald under the basket for an easy bucket. McDonald finished with 12 points.

Team effort: While Malouff carried the Lady Tigers in the first half, her teammates picked up some of the slack in the second half.

Aztec was down 35-33 midway through the third when sophomore guard Sorrel Huntington made a steal at midcourt and drove to the lane, splitting Bunton and Tori Northcutt for the layup. Senior Candace Scott added a key offensive putback early in the fourth quarter.

“We talked about it at halftime,” Aztec coach Chelsea Shock said. “They were really doubling (Malouff) and I told the other girls they had to step up and they did.”

Up next: Clovis is at home again today in a 7 p.m. tipoff against Lubbock Coronado.