By Eric Butler
RIO RANCHO — The Clovis girls basketball team was taught a physical lesson on Friday, but it’s one that Lady Wildcats coach Miles Watters hopes will benefit his squad in the future.
In the semifinals of the Mel Otero Invitational, Sandia knocked off Clovis 57-45 to move into the championship against Rio Rancho, a 39-34 winner over Los Lunas.
The Lady Cats (4-1), who won last yea’s Rio Rancho invite, will contend with Los Lunas for third place tonight.
Portales, at the same tourney, defeated Onate 47-45 on Friday and will take on Aztec for fifth-place this afternoon.
The Matadors, top-ranked in Class 5A, missed a chance to play No. 2 Mayfield last weekend when the teams won different segments of the APS girls basketball tournament. But Sandia (6-0), given the chance to play the third-ranked team, pulled away from the Clovis after a tight first half.
One big asset for the Matadors was senior Kendra Coveal, whose ability to grab rebounds on the offensive end led to numerous second chances for Sandia. Coveal finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“She’s been doing that all year long,” Sandia coach Susan Kubala said. “Right now, she’s averaging a double-double.”
Sandia also got some good board work from Melissa Sprinkle and Sarah Wenze.
The game was tied 17-17 after Clovis’ Antiesha Brown hit a shot with 2:40 left in the first half, but Coveal then put back in a Sandia miss — a play that kicked off a 7-2 run in which every Matadors point was tallied by Coveal.
With three minutes left in the third quarter, Sandia held a 33-29 lead when guard Simone Buckhanan hit a shot and was fouled. Buckhanan converted the three-point play and the Matadors began to open some distance by registering a 9-4 run at that point.
Buckhanan scored 15 points for the victors while teammate Sprinkle added 12.
Ebony Bunton, who was in foul trouble from the get-go, led Clovis with 10 points.
“They exposed a lot of our weaknesses tonight, especially rebounding,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “We’ve done a poor job of rebounding these first five games, but the other four we weren’t scored that much upon.
“I don’t guess, physically, we match up very well with a player like (Coveal). But I was a little disappointed that we fell off and didn’t try to push back and get after it.”
In the consolation bracket, Portales (2-2) burst out to a 32-16 lead when Amanda Terry, Bethany Self and Briana Hernandez each scored baskets right after intermission. But Onate (1-3) inched closer and closer after that, finally reducing the deficit to a single point with 1:39 left to play.
With a minute remaining, Hernandez drove and hit a 13-foot pull-up jumper to give Portales a 46-43 advantage.
“I thought that maybe I shouldn’t shoot it,” Hernandez said. “But since I was driving, I thought I might as well. Because of the fact that they were getting close, I just didn’t want to miss and have them get the rebound and go down for a layup.”
The Knights did answer fairly quickly, as Laura Burciaga countered with a bucket with 53 seconds to go. But Onate’s lack of personal fouls worked against it down the stretch.
Trying to stop the clock, Knights guard Darnisha Jones fouled a Portales player with 15 seconds left. That, however, was only Onate’s sixth team foul overall and the Lady Rams retained possession out of bounds instead of going to the free throw line.
The next time, Onate fouled was with only a second left and Hernandez hit one of two free throws to finish the scoring.
Like Los Lunas, the Lady Rams’ first-round opponent in the tournament, the Lady Tigers will pose a problem to Portales with their size in the paint.
“They’re big, but it makes us better playing bigger schools,” Hernandez said. “When we get to our competition (in Class 3A), most of them aren’t as big, so we’ll be ready for them.”
Portales 47, Onate 45
Aztec 69, Highland 53
Sandia 57, Clovis 45
Rio Rancho 39, Los Lunas 34
Onate vs. Highland (7th place), 1 p.m.
Portales vs. Aztec (5th place), 3 p.m.
Clovis vs. Los Lunas (3rd place), 5 p.m.
Sandia vs. Rio Rancho (championship), 7 p.m.