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Alissa Wagner drains a three during the first quarter Thursday against El Paso Bowie at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Alissa Wagner drains a three during the first quarter Thursday against El Paso Bowie at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Lady Bulldog basketball team got its City of Champions Classic run off to a solid start Thursday at Bulldog Pit, besting the Lady Bears of El Paso Bowie 47-31 to advance to the winners’ bracket semifinal round.

The Artesia girls came out gangbusters, shooting well under the basket and using quick, aggressive defense to force 21 Bowie turnovers in the first two quarters of play.

A Gracie Tesillo bucket and Alissa Wagner trey gave the Lady ‘Dogs the early lead, and a jumper off the inbound pass by Paityn Houghtaling made it 7-2 just under two minutes in. Late baskets by Alexa Riggs and Gracie Puentes gave Artesia a three-point edge going into the second, 12-9, and although the Lady Bulldogs would go a bit frigid from the field in the final eight minutes of the half, nine points from the free-throw line helped keep them in front at the break, 27-15.

“I thought the girls came out and played hard right away,” Artesia head coach Jeff Houghtaling said today. “I thought we came out with a lot of intensity and a lot of confidence, and we did a good job overall of shooting in our gym. I was real pleased with the effort.

“I didn’t think our execution was fantastic in the first half, but it was much improved in the second. I don’t think we were nervous, but we were excited to be back playing, and the first half was a little sloppy.”

Artesia committed 18 turnovers of their own in the opening quarters but slashed that number in the second half while continuing to take the ball away from the Bears with a combination of full-court pressure and stifling D.

A slow offensive third for both teams saw the Lady ‘Dogs manage just eight points on a Wagner trey, an old-fashioned three-point play from Tesillo, and a free throw apiece by Houghtaling and Wagner, but the girls in orange would hold Bowie to just a single field goal in the quarter, that coming with one minute remaining.

The Lady Bears stepped up their offense in the fourth, but with Houghtaling and Riggs logging offensive putbacks and Puentes and Kyrah Gonzales breakaway layups, Artesia was able to keep its lead in double digits through the horn, 47-31.

“We definitely played much better in the second half,” Coach Houghtaling said. “We were kind of able to stretch out the lead, we started taking advantage of our opportunities with the ball, we were a little smarter, and we didn’t put them on the foul line as much.”

Wagner led both teams in scoring on the night with 10 points, followed by Houghtaling and Puentes with nine and Tesillo with eight.

With the victory, the Lady Bulldogs evened their record at 2- 2 as they prepare for a rematch at 6:30 p.m. today against Santa Teresa. Artesia defeated the Lady Desert Warriors Dec. 1 at the Pit, 60-32.

“I think Santa Teresa is going to come out with a lot more intensity than they did the last time we played them,” said Houghtaling. “Like we told the girls last night, we’re going to have to come out and match that and play smart, because they’re going to be looking to avenge the loss we gave them last week.

“And at some point, we’re going to have to start limiting our turnovers in the first half. The second halves of all of our games have been considerably better. So we’re going to go in tonight focused on taking care of the ball in the first half.”

The Lady ‘Dogs’ game will follow the tournament’s three-point shooting contest – set to begin between 6 and 6:30 p.m. – and Houghtaling again encourages fans to come out and enjoy an evening at the gym.

“Our tournament sponsors have really been great and we want to thank all of them, and the crowds have been good,” said the coach. “It’s been a great tournament so far. Hopefully we have a good night tonight and are playing for the championship tomorrow.”