Rams prepare for tourney

Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

For some it might seem a little like the movie “Groundhog Day” where Bill Murray’s character wakes up and relives the same day over and over. But to coach Mark Gallegos and the Portales Rams, facing the same opponent this year in the first round of the Stu Clark Tournament that they faced in the first round of last year’s Stu Clark is about stepping up to a challenge.

The 52nd annual Stu Clark Invitational, the longest continuously run basketball tournament in New Mexico tips off today at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. The Rams (4-4) square off at 2:30 p.m. against the Santa Fe High Demons.

“A lot of people wonder why we don’t go to the Clovis tournament,” Gallegos said of the Clovis Classic, also starting today. “Our kids love to go to this tournament and it gives us a chance to play some people up north that we are likely to meet when we get to the state tournament.”

Gallegos says one of the reasons his players like going to the tournament is the excitement of playing on the big court at NMHU in front of big crowds if they make it to the rounds played in the evening. The coach says those crowds can run 1,800 to 2,000 in size.

“You can’t believe it until you’ve been there,” Gallegos said.

Portales has been going to the tournament for the last seven years. In 2000, the last year there were four classes in New Mexico basketball, they were in the championship round with 4-A Santa Fe Capital. They came away as runner-up in that tournament but have won the third place trophy twice since then.

Last year the Rams defeated Bernalillo 52-37 to win the consolation bracket after beating Taos 48-30 on the second day of the tournament. Santa Fe High took advantage of early turnovers in the opening game last year and shut down Portales 62-56.

“It’s a tough draw,” Gallegos said of Santa Fe. “They’re 5-A and pretty good.”

After playing its last game before the holiday break without the services of three of their starters, due to suspensions for breaking team rules, the Rams expect to be back to full strength this week in Las Vegas. Gallegos says all the suspensions are served and the team is all healthy following practice Tuesday.

To face a 5-A team in (like) Santa Fe is a good test,” Gallegos said. “It kinda tells us where we’re at.”

Gallegos said that the Demons are a half-court man-to-man pressure team on defense.

“They really like to push the ball,” Gallegos said. “If they get a lead on you they’ll spread the court and won’t shoot anything but a layup. We cannot get down, we have to control the game. We cannot play from behind.”

The Rams have the chance of facing an old friend at the tournament. Rick Apodaca, who was Gallegos’ assistant coach, is now coaching the Taos Tigers, who are in the tournament.

Other games today include Taos vs. West Las Vegas (on Portales side of the eight-team bracket), Espanola vs. Santa Fe Capital and Bernalillo vs. Las Vegas Robertson.