Dons stun horsemen at buzzer
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — When the most prolific scorer in the history of the state defers to you on a buzzer-beating shot with the game on the line, you’d better come through.
And that’s exactly what Isaiha Gallegos did, draining a 3-pointer from the wing as time expired to give West Las Vegas a dramatic 54-51 win over visiting St. Michael’s in the semifinal of the boys’ District 2-4A tournament in Gillie Lopez Gymnasium on Thursday.
The win sends the Dons (17-8) into Saturday’s district championship at crosstown rival Robertson and leaves the Horsemen (14-14) in a holding pattern until the pairings for the Class 4A State Tournament are announced Sunday night.
In a physical game that tested the patience of both teams, West Las Vegas senior DJ Bustos — who recently became the state’s all-time leading scorer — was particularly riled up after St. Michael’s threw a box-and-one defense at him. Several Horsemen took turns guarding the 6-foot-3 wing and at no point was that revolving door of defenders taking it easy on him.
“The way they were playing me, I don’t really respect that style of basketball, I don’t at all,” Bustos said. “The way my dad [Dons head coach David Bustos] teaches us how to play is just good, sound defense and helping recover — shell defense — and play their best player straight up.
“It’s happened to me for four years already, how they play me, how they guard me,” Bustos continued. “I understand that, but sometimes it gets a little out of hand and I get frustrated. It builds up a fire in me. I just want to prove to my teammates that I’m still in the game. Even though I’m frustrated I’m still in the game, I still have their backs.”
Typically a player who shields his emotions on the floor, Bustos was clearly agitated throughout the game. After his father drew a technical to start the second quarter, the younger Bustos twice slapped the floor with both hands while setting up on defense.
“I had to call timeout just to get him to settle down,” the elder Bustos said.
West Las Vegas led 51-48 in the waning seconds when Horsemen guard Thomas Pacheco brought the ball up court and dished to Luke Archuleta for an equalizing 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Electing not to call a timeout, the Dons immediately inbounded to Bustos who drove the length of the floor in just six seconds. He dribbled into a triple team, then passed to a wide-open Gallegos for the final shot. Gallegos ran up the floor along the sideline completely unguarded and let his shot go with two seconds left.
He said the plan was to follow Bustos into the lane for a potential pass and layup, but when he saw the crowd collapse on Bustos near the perimeter he simply squared up along the line for the 20-foot try.
“I didn’t see it go in,” Gallegos said. “Being one of the two starters back from last season, I have to show leadership on the court, so the nervousness really isn’t there for me but it is intense and it does put a lot of pressure on me.”
“[DJ’s] going to hit the open man,” David Bustos said. “He trusts Isaiha. Isaiha’s a good shooter and he’d been hitting some shots all night.”
Bustos said he elected not to call a timeout on the final play because it was the best way to attack a stingy defense that was in transition and scattered from one side to the other.
“It was good to just play it out and see what happens,” he said.
Thursday’s game was the first meeting between the district rivals this season. The two regular season games were forfeited by West Las Vegas, setting up an interesting grudge match by two traditional rivals who spent the last few years in different districts.
“I wouldn’t say it’s back,” Gallegos said when asked if the Dons-Horsemen rivalry is officially a thing agin. “Usually the rivalry between us is with Robertson, but the game [Thursday] was intense being that we haven’t played them all season.”
St. Michael’s led for most of the first half as center Adam Tupler was dominant in the low post. He he scored the first six points of the game and had 10 at halftime. He was 6-for-6 from the field to start the game and finished with a team-high 17 points.
Archuleta had 15; 10 of them coming in the final six minutes of the game.
Horsemen head coach Ron Geyer lauded the play of his team’s defense, dubbed a 1-3 chaser. He also said Thursday’s result probably means Robertson will earn the state’s No. 4 seed, followed immediately by West Las Vegas and either St. Michael’s or Pojoaque Valley.
“I like to think we’re peaking at the right time,” he said. “I thought we played solid defense and that’s how it’s kind of been for us, you know, not quite getting it done.”
Gallegos had a game-high 20 points for West Las Vegas while Bustos had 16. Gallegos knew he’d get plenty of open looks since the Horsemen were going to spend so much energy keeping an eye on Bustos.
“We worked on it all day, all week in practice, came in before the game and worked on it,” Gallegos said. “I knew the shots were going to be there.”