Clovis streaking into state

Clovis junior guard Ebony Bunton is the third leading scorer in the state at 18.7 points per game. The Lady Wildcats face Las Cruces today in a quarterfinal game. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Las Cruces High coach Matt Abney knows his undersized team has to force the action if it hopes to compete in this week’s Class 5A girls state tournament in Albuquerque.

The Lady Bulldawgs (18-10), making their first trip to the state quarterfinals in a dozen years, face Clovis High today in a quarterfinal game at The Pit.

“With our size, we know we have to get after it defensively,” said Abney, in his second season at the helm. “My biggest concern with Clovis is whether we can keep them off the boards.”

The Lady Wildcats (20-5) are looking for a fourth consecutive trip to the state semifinals. They won the championship in 2005, lost in the finals in 2004 and were ousted in last year’s semis by eventual champion Gallup.

“I think if we go out and play hard, we’ll be able to compete,” CHS senior guard Tori Northcutt said. “I just think if we go out and play defense like we have been and minimize our mistakes, we should do well.”

The Lady Cats have won 11 in a row since back-to-back road losses to Mayfield — this week’s No. 1 seed — and Texas Class 3A state champion Canyon in early January. Veteran Clovis coach Miles Watters expects Cruces to throw constant pressure at his team.

“I think there’s three keys,” he said. “No. 1, we have to handle their press; the second thing is to try to get back (on defense) because they’ll push the ball, and the third thing is to handle their defensive transitions.”

Cruces, with only one player — 5-foot-8 junior forward Domonique Rivera — taller than 5-6, does own a two-point win over the Lady Cats’ District 4-5A rival, Hobbs. Three of its four most lopsided losses have been at the hands of Mayfield by an average of 30 points.

“We’re going to have turnovers,” Watters said. “We just have to keep them to a minimum. They want to make it a 94-foot game, and we want to make it more of a halfcourt game.”

Assistant coaches Dan Replogle and Gabe Apodaca scouted the Lady Bulldawgs’ 61-58 win Friday over Los Lunas.

“Coach Apodaca told one of the girls that they’re like little chihuahuas, always at your ankles,” Northcutt said.

“I’m not nervous,” she said. “I’m just anxious to go play.”

Abney said his girls are looking forward to the experience of playing in The Pit, adding he thinks the Lady Cats will provide a real challenge.

“They’re very impressive,” he said. “They’re a very good basketball team, and Miles is one of the best coaches in the state.

“We’re excited. To be where we are in two years, it’s very exciting for my team.”