That’s all Albuquerque’s Sandia Preparatory Sundevils preached on Saturday night.
In the crucial fourth quarter of a nondistrict game against host Pojoaque Valley in Ben Luján Gymnasium, that’s all they were playing for — three stops on defense.
Sandia Prep did more than that, as the Elks shot just 2-for-14 from the field over the final 8 minutes as the Sundevils continued to make a case as a contender in Class AAA with a 67-57 win. It was a testament to their defensive mindset and the mantra that head coach Willie Owens preaches.
“If it’s a close game and we can get three stops, it changes the momentum of the game,” Sandia Prep guard Jonny Doran said. “We may get three stops and not score on the other end, but it changes the mentality of the game, the momentum of the game. It’s huge for a team to get three stops in the fourth quarter.”
But it’s nice to augment defensive prowess with sound offensive principles. Sandia Prep (13-3) did that by hitting five straights shots from the field to finish the game, and it was the quality of shots it got that was equally important. All but one of them came in in the paint as Pojoaque (9-6) suffered from communication breakdown down the stretch.
“We kept talking about [defensive intensity] in the timeouts,” Pojoaque head coach Joey Trujillo said. “I don’t know. We just weren’t communicating because everything Sandia Prep got in the fourth quarter was a layup.”
That one shot that didn’t come from the inside was the dagger that got the Sundevils going. Zack Tenorio hit a 3-pointer with 4:32 left that turned a 51-50 Elks lead into a 53-51 Sandia Prep advantage it never let go as Pojoaque lost for the fourth time in the last six games.
“It’s all about momentum,” Doran said.
And momentum was on Pojoaque’s side until that point. After falling behind 23-13 early in the second quarter, Pojoaque got on track offensively. It started with an Edwin Fierro 3-pointer to make it 23-16, and the Elks hit their last six shots of the first half. The result was a 15-3 run that ended with a John Ainsworth jumper with 6 seconds left to give Pojoaque a 28-26 lead at the break.
The hot shooting continued as Pojoaque went 8-for-11 from the field, which Owens feels makes it such a dangerous team.
“When they can shoot the basketball, you’re in trouble,” Owens said. “I thought they did a real good job of shooting it [Saturday].”
What kept Sandia Prep on the Elks’ heels was its work in the paint. Thanks to 20 points from senior post Tyler Dorner, including eight in the third, the Sundevils were only down 46-45 entering the third quarter. Dorner embodies the typical Sundevil interior player — not very tall (6-foot) but very effective.
“We have players that play big,” Doran said. “Size-wise, they’re not that tall, but they play big and that’s what it is. They’re a presence in the paint.”
The Elks didn’t show their size down low. Outside of Curtis Cordova’s layup and 8-footer in the fourth, Pojoaque settled for mostly jump shots that clanged off the rim.
“We learned a few things that we need to do better down the stretch,” Trujillo said. “We’ll work on those in practice and go from there.”
The Elks began a key three-game stretch with Sandia Prep, and it concludes with a nondistrict battle with St. Michael’s on Tuesday and the District 2AAA opener against Taos on Thursday. Trujillo said the district game carries more weight for his team, but this stretch of games is what it needs to get ready for the final two months of the season.
“It’s a good stretch, playing tough teams that are playing good right now,” Trujillo said. “It’s just the way I like it.”