Demons break away to dominate Albuquerque High
As Santa Fe High senior guard Antonio Lovato leaped into the air looking for someone to pass the ball to Wednesday night, he couldn’t have found a better option positioned on the left wing.
There was Christian Kavanaugh, as open as a 24-hour convenience store, waiting to take Lovato’s pass during the third quarter the District 5-5A-opening boys basketball game against Albuquerque High. And the only defense the Bulldogs could offer was the desperate wail of one of their fans when Kavanaugh grabbed the ball.
“Not him!” the lone voice cried as the Demons senior wing let loose with his fifth straight shot from 3-point range. And just like the previous four, it found nothing but the bottom of the net. The shot was the final salvo of the quarter for Kavanaugh, who was 6-for-8 from the perimeter in the second half. It also started a crucial 16-2 run that led the Demons to a 75-52 win to open 5-5A play in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
Kavanaugh had a team-high 24 points to lead a 3-point barrage that left Albuquerque High flummoxed. Santa Fe High (14-3, 1-0) hit nine of its 12 3s in the second half and finished 12-for-25.
“We were just taking what the defense gives us,” Kavanaugh said. “We were reading the defense and just picking it off of that. It was just great chemistry and we were feeling off of each other. We were just moving the ball — that was the main thing.”
Welcome to the new way of winning for the Demons, who played their first game without 6-foot-7 sophomore phenom Fedonta “J.B.” White after he dislocated his patella. It was much like the old way.
“That’s who we are, and we know our identity,” Santa Fe High head coach Zack Cole said. “We can’t shy away from it. We can’t be afraid of taking those shot just because we didn’t make as many in the first half.”
The first half was a struggle for the shoot-first, ask-later Demons, who were just 3-for-13 from the perimeter at the break. That combined with a 13-11 deficit in the rebounding category allowed the Bulldogs (3-11, 0-1) to stay within 26-25 at the half. Some of the struggles stemmed from a 10-day break after losing 54-53 to Clovis, and another part was getting used to a new lineup that included 6-2 junior Anthony Sisneros in the post.
“Practice is different from games,” Kavanaugh said. “We just had to get back into that rhythm. We just weren’t ourselves, and we had to find ourselves.”
Leave it to Cole to help them find it, as he had some strong words for the Demons in the locker room at the break.
“I can’t tell you everything I said in the locker room, but I challenged them,” Cole said. “The coaching staff challenged them, because we didn’t play our best half. We have a lot of respect for Albuquerque High — we’ve played them a handful of times and they have some good guards. And when you’re dealing with that, you don’t want to keep a team that plays as hard as they do around.”
So, the Demons did a better job on the glass, outrebounding the Bulldogs 16-8 in the second half, and they forced nine turnovers. Even though Albuquerque High hit four of its first five shots of the second half, the hot shooting cooled off considerably after that. The Bulldogs missed 15 of their last 20 shots.
Santa Fe High did it thanks to its small lineup that often had just one 6-footer on the court. The combination of turnovers and missed shots on one side of the court led to plenty of scoring opportunities for the Demons on the other end, as they hit 16 of 25 shots.
When Kavanaugh hit his fifth triple, the Demons led 45-39. When he knocked down his last perimeter shot of the night — a sideline 3 with 4:50 left — the score was 63-42.
“That [lineup] is dangerous,” Kavanaugh said. “That’s pure speed there.”
And some pure shooting strokes, too.