ALBUQUERQUE — As each player from the Clovis boys basketball team was introduced Wednesday morning, University Arena echoed with the sarcastic chant, “Who dat?”
By the end, the spirited student section from Albuquerque’s Valley High sat silent in The Pit as second-seeded Clovis sprinted away with a 79-46 win in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A boys state basketball tournament.
The Wildcats advance to play the winner of the game between third-seeded Manzano and sixth-seeded Las Cruces at 4:45 p.m. Thursday.
While the final score for the Wildcats was impressive, even more impressive was 60 — the number of rebounds Clovis (26-2) pulled down.
“I thought we came out early and were real aggressive, especially on the boards,” Wildcat coach J.D. Isler said. “D.J. (Blackmon) was real aggressive on the glass and that’s what we wanted to do because Valley has weapons. We didn’t want their shooters to get started.”
Blackmon, a sophomore guard, and senior guard Lathan Lieb each scored a game-high 22 points. Senior forward Lincoln Nora pulled in a game-high 18 rebounds as Clovis ran out to a 14-5 first quarter lead and never looked back.
The Wildcats quick pace and press seemed to swamp the Vikings, who finished with 31 turnovers and shot just 33 percent for the game — including a paltry 9-of-27 in the first half.
Junior Anthony Santillanes scored 10 points to pace Valley (12-15).
“We want to get up and down a lot and run,” Blackmon said. “It just goes back to the conditioning at the beginning of the year.”
As quick of a start as they got in the first quarter, Clovis topped that performance with a 25-12 third quarter effort and a 10-2 run to start the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had to come out strong after halftime,” Lieb said. “The third quarter is key. You have to have a strong third quarter to win and we did. We just wanted to run our stuff really.”
Isler said Lieb, one of the top scorers in the state, started slow shooting but began hitting as the game progressed.
“Lathan hit a couple of big ones that broke their back,” Isler said. “And DJ gets a lot of buckets from pure effort. John-John (Dawson) had a great game at the point (guard). He’s very unselfish. We’re a nice balanced team and that makes more difficult to defend.”
Lieb said despite the convincing win, the team is focused.
“We know it’s only going to get tougher as the road goes along,” he said. ”We’re ready for the challenge and we know we’ll have to play hard and come ready tomorrow.”
“We’re just hungry for a state championship,” Blackmon said.
Clovis’ last boys state title was in 1979.