By Rick White
ALBUQUERQUE — As Gallup reached the bottom of the ramp leading to the floor at the The Pit for pregame warmups, Gallup players started singing: “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
Typically an end-of-the-game crowd sendoff to the losing team, the barb was directed at the Clovis Lady Wildcats, who collectively stood 50 feet away at the top of the ramp waiting for their entrance.
Instead of waging in a war of words, the Lady Wildcats silenced the Bengals with a rock solid effort led by sophomore Aimee Hilburn and, as ESPN’s Chris Berman would say, a cast of thousands.
Hilburn led a balanced attack with 14 points, six rebounds and eight assists, and Tori Quintana rebounded from a rough first half with a trio of back-breaking 3-pointers as Clovis overwhelmed Gallup 56-32 Wednesday in a Class 5A girls semifinal game.
Clovis coach Miles Watters said Gallup’s attempt at gamesmanship backfired.
“I think that probably inspired us,” Watters said. “Instead of us walking out on the court hearing the boos, we were already fired up.”
Clovis senior Monique Walker couldn’t believe Gallup’s gall before the game.
“I’ve never seen a team do that before, right in front of us,” Walker said.
It wasn’t as if she needed any extra incentive. Gallup embarrassed Clovis two years ago on the same floor when Walker was a sophomore.
“We definitely wanted revenge,” said Walker, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds as Clovis (27-3) advanced to Friday’s 8:45 p.m. title game.
Quintana, who missed last week’s regional win over Los Lunas because of a concussion, missed all six of her shots in the first half.
It didn’t take long for her to recover.
The sophomore point guard hit a 3-pointer off a set play 20 seconds into the second half, fueling an 11-2 run that doubled Clovis’ lead to 36-18.
Quintana’s third 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter helped fend off a mini-run by Gallup.
Veteran Gallup coach Johnny Lomansey said his team never had a chance.
“We came out scared,” said the colorful Lomansey, who has won three state titles and more than 400 games in his 22 years at the school. “We didn’t pass the ball, and we didn’t catch the ball.”
The game was supposed to be a matchup of contrasting styles: the high-scoring Lady Wildcats vs. the meticulous Bengals.
Watters said he told his girls they were playing against Lomansey’s time-proven system and not necessarily the players.
“You have to be patient on defense, get good help from the weak side on the cutters and get out on the 3-point shooters,” Watters said.
And for the most part the Lady Wildcats did, holding a team that relies heavily on 3-point shooting to 2-of-17 from behind the arc.
Stephanie Jones led the Bengals (18-9) with nine points.