By Kevin Wilson
The mantra is that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. While that goal seems a little lofty for the Portales Rams at the moment, it was good enough to give them their fourth win of the year.
Austin Pullen’s layup with seven seconds left put the Rams up for good, but defense made the ultimate difference as Portales held visiting West Las Vegas to its lowest offensive output this season in a 43-41 win Saturday night.
“We’re going to switch our defenses,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “We’re going to play our box-and-one. The team’s starting to believe in it.”
Portales (4-7) held the Dons (9-2) scoreless over the final 6:53 of the game, and the upset was sealed when Henry Montoya’s 3-point attempt was off.
Chris Kirchner led the Rams with 13 points, while Chris Carter added 10. Carter also had an assist on the final basket by Pullen.
Gallegos said the original play was a baseline screen for Kirchner, but the Dons knocked the ball out of bounds and the play became a one-on-one for Carter. Carter dribbled down the left side of the lane, then dropped an underhanded bounce pass to Pullen.
“I (went inside) and I saw that there was only one man on Austin,” Carter said. “I figured if I dribbled up (the lane), either he’d have to come up on me or I’d have a layup.”
Pullen, who finished with six points, dribbled inside and drew a foul from Enrique Cavazos on a ball fake. Pullen missed the ensuing free throw, but Montoya’s final 3-point attempt bounced off of the right side of the rim.
West Las Vegas has lost two of three games since starting the season 8-0. The Dons were coming off of Friday’s 63-42 win over Espanola Valley, but coach David Bustos didn’t think that made a difference for the Dons’ intensity level.
“The bottom line is they played well enough to win the game,” Bustos said. “We had some good looks, didn’t get them in and I expect them to make those plays.”
Bustos pointed to the final 6:23, which was preceded by a Julian Duran 3-pointer to give the Dons a 41-37 advantage. The Dons failed to score on their next 10 possessions, helping pave the way for a Ram comeback.
West Las Vegas had seemed to take control of the game in the third quarter, as they turned a 28-21 deficit into a 33-31 lead over a 4:40 stretch. However, Kirchner hit a 3-pointer and drew a foul with five seconds left in the third. The ensuing free throw gave the Rams a 35-33 lead.
Though Cavazos answered with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer of his own, Kirchner’s 4-point play helped establish momentum for the final quarter of what ended as an upset.
Just don’t expect Carter and the Rams to feel the same way about the win.
“We know we’re a good team and we didn’t show it in the other games,” Carter said. “There was always an Achilles heel.
“We want to get respect from anybody. We want them to say, ‘Portales is a good team.’ I think we did that.”
The Rams will be on the road Tuesday against Artesia. In the junior varsity game, Portales defeated West Las Vegas 38-36 for its fourth-straight win.