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Lady Bulldog senior point guard Kyrah Gonzales drives around Deming’s Rosa Villagrana during the first half Saturday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Anyone curious about the Lady Bulldog basketball team’s progression over the course of the first month of the season need only look at the Artesia girls’ performance Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Pit.

In their third outing of the 2018-19 campaign Dec. 7 at the City of Champions Classic, a few errors – and a whole lot of free throws – saw the Lady ‘Dogs fall to the Class 5A Lady Wildcats of Deming, 48-39.

“Looking back on the tournament, I thought we were better than they were then,” Artesia head coach Jeff Houghtaling said Saturday. “It was just one of those games where I think they shot 30 free throws and we shot maybe eight to 10. They were pretty good from the foul line that night, and they ended up beating us.

“It was disappointing, but we just knew we needed to play a little better and a little smarter next time we saw them.”

The girls in orange did just that on Day Two of a weekend home stand at the Pit, besting the Lady ‘Cats – who stood at 11-1 going into the bout – 70-55 to improve to 9-4 on the year.

“I thought the girls played really well today,” Houghtaling said. “I thought we came together and got off to a good, fast start. We were able to hold off a run that Deming made, which I thought was real positive, and we finished strong.

“We put together four pretty good quarters, and I feel like we’re making progress and heading in the right direction.”

The Lady Bulldogs came out gangbusters against the Wildcats, using a pair of three-pointers and a bucket by Brehnan Davis, a coast-to-coast jumper and two from the stripe by Paityn Houghtaling, and a Kaylee Wagner shot off the glass to go up 14-2 on Deming with just under four minutes to go in the opening quarter.

With continued solid defense that resulted in eight Lady ‘Cat turnovers in the first, Artesia was able to hold the girls in maroon under 10 points in the period, picking up six more of their own on baskets from Faith Evans, Houghtaling and Elliot Harrison to lead 20-9 going into the second.

Deming kicked off that quarter with a 10-4 run that brought them back within five, 24-19, with 5:13 remaining in the first half, but back-to-back treys by Kyrah Gonzales and Estrella Villa, followed by a shot in the paint by Harrison, bumped Artesia’s lead back to double digits, 32-19.

Villa would log two more buckets and Gonzales one before half’s end to help Artesia stay in front as the ‘Cats continued to challenge, sending the Lady ‘Dogs up the ramp with a 38-29 advantage.

Harrison continued to contribute in the paint for Artesia in the third, logging an offensive putback and an and-one in the early goings of the quarter, and five consecutive points by Davis around the two-minute mark pushed the Lady Bulldogs cushion back to 16, 52-36.

The Lady Wildcats continued to challenge as the contest moved into its final eight minutes, but Artesia got the points needed to keep Deming from getting too close for comfort, matching the ‘Cats point for point in the fourth as Houghtaling scored five and Gonzales added another trey.

“We knew coming in that if we just played solid and gave ourselves a chance, didn’t send them to the foul line too much and didn’t do anything wild and crazy, we’d have a chance to beat them,” said Coach Houghtaling. “We won by 15, but it felt like it was nip and tuck the whole way.

“I don’t think they ever got within six or eight points once we got going, but it was a pretty intense game. The tempo was up and down, the shooting was good, and it seemed like we were just trading baskets all night.”

Davis and Houghtaling joined Deming’s Adriana Giron in leading all scorers on the contest with 15 points, followed for Artesia by Harrison with 11 and Gonzales with 10.

The Lady Bulldogs were 46 percent from the field on the night, 44 percent from the free-throw line with a showing, and kept their turnovers manageable with 12. Deming was 33 percent from the field, 50 percent from the line (11-22) with 16 turnovers.

“I felt like our conditioning was a little better than Deming’s, probably because of the depth we were able to play with,” said Houghtaling. “I think it was evident in the fourth quarter, maybe the last three or four possessions of the game, when we got some fast-break layups they didn’t contest. So the girls finished strong, and I think they’re proud of that. We spend a lot of time practicing our conditioning and working on transitioning, and I thought that paid off for us.

“Everybody communicated well on the floor today, we got contributions from a lot of kids. We got probably 10 girls in the game today, and every one of them that played had a chance to do good things, get shots, play well on defense, go rebound, and I think whenever you can get that many girls in a game and they all get in the stats, it’s a successful night, win or lose. But it’s even better when you win.”

Saturday’s win came on the heels of two other comfortable wins for the Lady ‘Dogs, who bested Ruidoso 58-23 Thursday on the road before walloping Gadsden 62-22 Friday at Bulldog Pit.

“Gadsden was a flip-flop of Deming,” Houghtaling said. “They were 1-8 coming in, but we’re not good enough to overlook anybody, and we went into the game expecting Gadsden’s best effort.

“I thought they played hard, they’re just young and don’t have very good guard play right now, and I think that hurt them against our defense.”

The 5A Lady Panthers were unable to generate any offense to speak of in the contest, taking just three points apiece out of the first and second quarters.

The Lady ‘Dogs, meanwhile, had another quick and devastating start, posting 22 points in the first, nine of those – three buckets and a long trey at the buzzer – coming off the hand of Kaylee Wagner, who closed out the period with a 7-0 solo run.

The offensive onslaught continued in the second, where consecutive baskets by Davis, Houghtaling and Gonzales opened the quarter, and a three by Villa with just over four minutes left in the half made it 31-5.

The Lady ‘Dogs closed out the half with a 9-0 string that included layups by Houghtaling, Davis and Wagner, and both ends of a one-and-one by Makinli Taylor.

Gadsden would up its output to eight points per quarter in the second half as Artesia began working its bench into the contest, with Villa launching three longballs in the third and Artesia going 6-8 from the stripe in the final period to close out their 40-point win.

Houghtaling led the night with 17 points, while Wagner and Villa both posted 12.

“I felt like one thing we did the best last night was use our transition offense,” Coach Houghtaling said. “Our defense really led to a lot of run-outs and easy baskets, and it just kind of took the wind out of Gadsden’s sails. They had a hard time initiating any half-court offense because of our defense, and that was real positive.

“The games we’ve lost this year I feel like we lost because we got off to a slow start offensively. But any time we can get into a game like we did last night and today, where we get a few easy layups and it just builds that momentum, it helps. Our confidence starts to snowball, the basket looks a little bigger, and we get more comfortable taking some jump shots and three’s.”

The string of solid outings came at a good time for the Lady Bulldogs, as they’ll kick off the challenging second half of their schedule Tuesday when they join the Bulldogs in a trip to Cave Country.

“We’re fixing to get into the tough part of our schedule, where we’ve got Carlsbad twice, Clovis, Hobbs, Roswell High,” Houghtaling said. “I think we’ll play well, but we know we’re in for some real battles. But it’s going to be good for us as we go into district to face a handful of really good teams.

“We’re not going to spend a ton of time game-planning Carlsbad. We know what they’re going to do, so we’re going to focus on the things we’re trying to do that are going to help us down the road. We’re going to have to handle some pressure Tuesday night, so I’d like to see us go in and take care of the ball, hit a few shots, and just play a little more steady like we have in the last four or five games.”

Following Tuesday’s bout, the Lady ‘Dogs will host Santa Teresa at 5:30 p.m. Friday before hitting the road to Hobbs Saturday for a 7 p.m. contest.

For their Friday home game against the Lady Desert Warriors, Artesia will be holding a Pink Out as part of a Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising initiative.

“That’s a nationwide deal,” said Houghtaling. “The NCAA and NFHS both participate during the month of January, so we’re going to get on board and see if we can have some positive effect there.

“We’ve got some white, pink and orange uniforms, we’ll have a Pink Out with the student body, and we’ll have some sort of promotion that night, a three-point challenge to try to get folks to donate for every three-point shot we make. Hopefully, we can generate some money for cancer research.”