Class 4A: Robertson runs over by Hope, 66-42
ALBUQUERQUE — Every year there comes a team that stands toe to toe with big, bad Albuquerque Hope Christian, thinking it’s their turn to chop the beast down to size.
On Friday morning in The Pit, it was Las Vegas Robertson’s turn, and just like so many others, the Huskies were the ones doing the chopping.
After allowing the Cardinals to score six of the game’s first nine points and gain a glimmer of confidence, Hope flexed its muscles and rattled off a 22-4 run that sucked the life out of the building — and Robertson.
The lead was 11 at the half, 20 by the end of the third quarter and never smaller than that the rest of the way as the Huskies rolled to a 66-42 victory that sends them to their ninth consecutive appearance in the state finals.
Hope (25-5) will face No. 2 seed Portales in Saturday’s Class 4A championship. The Rams turned a close game against Silver at halftime into a rout in the second half, winning Friday morning’s other semifinal, 59-39.
Hope will be seeking its fifth consecutive title, eighth in nine years and 15th overall.
Another blue trophy would move them within two of tying Hobbs for the most all time in state history, a remarkable feat considering Hope has won 12 of its championships in the last 18 years — more than any two programs combined in any classification.
“I think we could have put up a better fight, maybe beat them,” said Robertson swing man Arjay Ortiz. “I believe that the pressure just got to us. We have so many new guys who’ve never played in The Pit before. This is all new to them and I think they were just nervous and didn’t play their own game.”
The Cardinals (18-9) turned the ball over 17 times and shot just 26 percent for the game, a testament to Hope’s swarming defense. Robertson had 28 possessions in the first half, failing to produce points on 20 of them.
“You can’t do that with a team that good, of their caliber,” said Cardinals coach Manny Romero. “We didn’t answer the intensity that they bring. We were in the game for a while, and then we were getting one and done, if it was a shot or a turnover. But that’s what happens with their defense when they turn it up on you.”
Marcus Medina had a game-high 19 points for the Huskies, which included a contested baseline jumper at the end of the first quarter as Robertson applied perfect defense against him. He followed that by hitting a 3-pointer to open the scoring in the second quarter.
Both shots were demoralizing to the Cardinals, who simply couldn’t get any consistency against Hope’s tenacious defense.
“It starts with their defense for them,” Robertson sophomore guard Kasean Pryor said. “That was the biggest factor. If they get a steal, they’re running transition. Offensively, we gave them shots. They didn’t work too hard except for maybe a few possessions. It all starts on defense for them, though.”
Ortiz led Robertson with five assists, 14 rebounds and 14 points, although he missed 11 of his 17 shots against that swarming Hope rotation. Pryor also struggled, going 3-for-10 from the floor to finish with 11 points.
Medina said he and the rest of his team knows that most people who show up to watch the Huskies are probably rooting against them. Such is the life of a dynasty that has made a living feasting on teams from its own classification for as long as most of the current players have been playing the game.
“It’s definitely there, but I don’t think it really affects the way we play,” Medina said.
Hope coach Jim Murphy, a man whose 763 career wins ranks fourth all-time in state history and whose 14 state titles is more than anyone else, said he understands the comparisons to dominant teams in the past — teams so good that they turned casual fans into people who root against them.
“I’m from New York originally and my dad hated the Yankees,” he said. “But I understand when you have some success that people want to see upsets and want to see people knock off teams that have been up there for a while.”
The Huskies have won 19 straight playoff games and 34 of their last 35 in the state tournament. Their only loss in that span was the 31-30 stunner they had against St. Michael’s in the controversial ending of the 2012 tournament, a loss that is the only thing standing in the way of an unprecedented run at a nine-peat Saturday.
“Records are eventually meant to be broken,” Romero said. “I believe someone down the line will be able to beat them.”