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The Lady Bulldog basketball team may have gotten off to a rough start Thursday at the Los Lunas Holiday Tournament, but they turned it around on the weekend, closing out an overall 2-1, fifth-place performance Saturday with a 67-19 lambasting of Class 5A Santa Fe High.

“I was very pleased overall,” head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “I thought it was a good trip for us.”

The Artesia girls kicked off their tourney run against host and fellow Class 4A squad Los Lunas, and despite overall solid play, low-scoring second and third quarters put the Lady ‘Dogs in a hole they couldn’t clamber out of in a 62-49 loss.

“We were a little disappointed to lose to Los Lunas the first night,” Houghtaling said. “I thought we played good enough defense to win, we just played poorly on offense and kind of shot ourselves in the foot.

“But Los Lunas is pretty good, and we knew that going on. They’ve been at No. 1 in the class and are No. 2 or 3 now, so it was a good measuring stick for us, and it’s good to get an idea of where you are against the top teams in the state.”

The girls in orange rebounded from the loss with a 58-45 victory over Shiprock Friday morning.

“Traditionally, Shiprock’s really a quality opponent,” said Houghtaling. “I think they’re down a little bit this year, and we were able to exploit some of those things, but it was a great win for us.

“They were better than we thought. We watched them play the first day against Alamogordo, and Alamogordo really handled them pretty easily. You never can tell how a team is going to respond to that, but they came out and played really hard against us.”

That placed the Lady Bulldogs in the tournament’s consolation final Saturday afternoon against a Santa Fe High team with some quality checks in its W column thus far in 2018.

“Santa Fe had a record of close to .500, and they’d already beaten a Los Alamos team that upset us last week and also beaten Roswell High, so they had a few good wins on their résumé,” Houghtaling said. “We knew they had a really good player, but we were able to come out and slow her down today, and really did a good job against them.”

Senior point guard and Lady Demon standout Taylor Salazar logged a bucket midway through the first quarter, but that would be the extent of her contribution in the contest, as the Lady ‘Dogs effectively harried her on defense.

Six points from Paityn Houghtaling and four each by Makinli Taylor and Brehnan Davis in the first saw Artesia up 20-7 late on Santa Fe, but Anjoli Griego was able to cut that lead to 10 by the buzzer with a trey.

Taylor opened the second with a bucket and both ends of a one-and-one as the girls in orange continued to expand their advantage. Houghtaling was aggressive in the paint on the contest, posting eight more points under the basket, while Davis and Estrella Villa added longballs, the former amidst a six-point showing in the period.

On top 41-14 heading into the second half, Artesia began effectively working its bench into the mix in the third, with Elliot Harrison adding a pair of baskets as the Lady Bulldogs put the mercy-rule clock in effective midway through the quarter.

They carried a 40-point advantage into the fourth, 56-16, that only got more lopsided still as the Lady Demons managed just five total points in the final two quarters of play.

“I really think we caught them on a bad day,” Coach Houghtaling said. “About the middle of the third quarter, you could see them just start to pack it in, which was too bad for them but good for us.

“We were able to get a lot of points and hold them to not very many. Our game plan was successful, and we were able to take (Salazar) out of the game and put their offense in the hands of kids who don’t normally have to score. We were able to turn them over quite a bit and got some good shots on our side.”

Houghtaling led all scorers on the contest with 16, followed by Davis with 14 and Taylor with 12.

“Any time you go to a tournament, obviously you want to go 3-0, but 2-1 is not bad,” Coach Houghtaling said.

Paityn Houghtaling’s 53 points on the weekend, along with a bevy of rebounds, meanwhile, earned her a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff we need to work on, obviously,” Coach Houghtaling said of the overall tourney takeaway. “We still need to polish up some defensive things we’ve been working on in preparation for district. I felt like we made some strides this weekend. We played a lot of man-to-man against Los Lunas, and that was good for us to do that against a good team, but that’s something we need to keep working on.

“There are always things you can do offensively. We need to continue shooting well and continue to get our chemistry where it needs to be. I think those things are coming along as they should right now, and we’re at that part of the season where games really are better than practice. We’re fixing to hit that full-speed-ahead part where we’re playing two or three games a week, so we’re going to polish things in practice and watch a lot of film, but it’s the game experience that’s really going to get us where we need to be as we approach district.”

The Lady Bulldogs (6-4) will embark on one of those three-game weeks Thursday when they had to Ruidoso for a 2:30 p.m. game against the Lady Warriors. Artesia defeated Ruidoso 70-20 Dec. 6 in the first round of the City of Champions Classic.

Following that outing, they’ll return to Bulldog Pit for the first time since that home tournament, hosting Gadsden at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Deming at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said Houghtaling. “I think it’s been a good road stretch for us so far. We’re sitting at 4-2 on the road, which isn’t bad, and hopefully we can go up to Ruidoso, play hard, complete, and finish this stretch 5-2 on the road.

“Everybody played almost all three games this weekend. All the girls really chipped in and worked hard, and we just have a good group this year that’s really fun to coach. They get along really well. I’ve coached a lot of years, and it seems like the good years are the ones where the kids get along. It makes my job easier, and this group really enjoys one another. We’re excited about where things are headed, and I think as we progress towards district, we’re just going to continue to get better.”