AZTEC — A fast start in the first half helped the Piedra Vista Panthers hold off a late charge from the Aztec Tigers.
The PV Panthers (12-8 overall, 1-0 District 1-4A) jumped out to a 37-19 lead against the Tigers (8-12, 0-1) at halftime. Aztec outscored PV 16-10 in the third quarter to get back in the game, but PV did enough in the fourth quarter to secure a 61-55 victory.
"It is always fun to come out and play Aztec. We have a very tough district, and every game is going to be fun," said PV head coach Adam Huff.
Senior guard Alonzoa Araiza helped PV build its big lead early. He connected on 4-of-5 3-point attempts in the first half while scoring 14 points. He finished the game with a team-high 15 points, making one big free throw late to help kill some of Aztec's momentum.
"I was feeling my shot, and I was open so I felt like I would make them. Coach told me if I was open to knock 'em down," Araiza said. "When we played here in the tournament earlier this year, we weren't using the rims. We came in (Friday) and knew we had to take a little off our shots and put a little shooter's touch on it."
Isaiah Valdez also came up with big steals and baskets early in the first half for PV. He finished the game with nine points, seven of which came in the first half. Also helping extend the PV lead was Kris Todacheeny and Troy Dixon. Dixon finished the game with 13 points for PV.
The game was high-paced throughout the majority of the night. Neither team got in foul trouble, although both teams earned technical fouls.
"We knew the tempo Aztec wanted to play. I love playing up-tempo, too," Huff said. "We thought they might fall into a zone a little bit more, but I am glad they didn't. That is all we are going to see with the other teams in our district. Our guys love these kind of games. We practice getting up and down the floor, getting stops and playing ball."
In the first half, Aztec was led by Juwan Charley's seven points, but Charley had to sit on the bench during stretches after being whistled for three early personal fouls. He avoided foul trouble the entire second half but didn't score again.
Ethan Tso took over for the Tigers late, scoring a game-high 17 points, all of which came in the second half.
"Ethan had a terrific game, and our whole team had a terrific second half," said Aztec head coach Tony DiNallo.
Tso was the only Tiger in double digits scoring. Nick Weaver finished the game with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
"I have got to do a better job finding the right combinations to get us going in the first half," DiNallo said. "I absolutely love our guys. They make adjustments at halftime, and we always win the second half."
Huff said Aztec's second half rally was the result of his team not getting enough stops on defense.
Aztec's next game comes at Kirtland Central (14-5, 1-0) on Tuesday night. Piedra Vista will host Farmington (10-11, 0-1) the same day.
Both teams hope they can continue to play fast-paced games, but they know that will be difficult against the zone defenses of Farmington High and Kirtland Central.
"We would love to play like this every night. We all know we are going to get zoned now, though," PV's Valdez said. "If they want to play boring basketball, let's play boring basketball. We will matchup to their level."John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.