Bobcats push Dons to the limit but fall 66-62
Pablo's 20 not enough as Bobcats get knocked out of state tournament
RIO RANCHO — After being crushed 73-39 by West Las Vegas in January, Bloomfield boys basketball coach Devon Manning said his team could hang with the Dons the second time around, but it would need to play a much better game to do so.
The No. 6 Bobcats weren't quite perfect on Wednesday, but Manning hardly minded.
Bloomfield took a 29-24 lead into halftime before stumbling near the end of the third quarter. No. 3 West Las Vegas took control of the game late and built a 10-point lead, but the Bobcats clawed back. They cut it to 2 inside the game's final seconds before finally falling 66-62 in the 4A state quarterfinals at Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
"I couldn't be any prouder, even if we would have won," Manning said. "I told them the growth we made in the last two months since the last time we played this West Las Vegas team is tremendous."
In the first quarter, Bloomfield was borderline perfect. The Bobcats slowed the pace down against a Dons team that loves to run, while turning the ball over once and carrying a 17-12 lead into the second.
Dons forward D.J. Bustos started to make a concerted effort to take over the game in the second, racking up 10 points by halftime. But that was nothing compared to his second half.
After the break, the West Las Vegas junior and his teammates finally forced Bloomfield to play their style of basketball. The Dons collected turnover after turnover, and turned those into fast-break layup after fast-break layup.
West Las Vegas (22-8) took its first lead of the ball game in the waning seconds of the third, 46-45. Bustos was at the center of that with 19 points and seven rebounds in the second half. The rangy 6-foot-3 forward finished with 29 and 11 in a dominant effort.
"He's just a good player. He's shooting 15-footers, and that's kind of what you want, but good players are going to knock them down," Manning said. "We just tried to disrupt him as best we could."
The Bobcats remained poised as the Dons made their run by adjusting to the fast game flow and answering with easy buckets of their own to keep it close. But Bloomfield could only play that way for so long.
A 10-second sequence of two Bloomfield turnovers and 5 WLV points mushroomed the Dons' lead to 10 at the 5:45 mark of the fourth. Manning said he didn't mind playing at the faster tempo, but his team just didn't execute in it very well.
"The second half, (WLV) played at their pace, but we contributed to that by making the silly turnovers that we tried so hard to avoid," he said.
Bloomfield looked dead in the water until lights-out shooter Malachi Pablo took over the game.
Pablo hit a trio of 3-pointers in just under three minutes to keep hope alive. On his second of those triples, Adriano Stevenson was pushed down while setting a screen for Pablo and was awarded two free throws, which he hit.
The rare 5-point play got Bloomfield back into it. Seconds later, Pablo buried a 3 from nearly 30 feet out to cut the deficit to 1. He said he was just doing what he always does.
"I was trying to help my teammates by doing what I can do — shoot," Pablo said.
Bustos kept drawing contact and getting to the line, but on his last trip he missed a pair — his only two misses of the night on eight attempts. That was with 15 seconds left in a 3-point game to keep the door open just a sliver for Bloomfield.
On the ensuing possession, Pablo was heavily guarded so he dished the ball off to Stevenson, who drew a foul and hit both free throws to make it a 2-point game. But the Bobcats had to start immediately fouling with only 8 seconds to go.
When they did, it was Bustos who was fouled, and he didn't miss his free throws the next time around, slamming the door shut.
But the 2015-2016 season was one of Bloomfield's best in school history. Pablo said the program has come a long way.
"I think this group right here put Bloomfield on the map," he said. "We wouldn't have hung with these guys two years ago."
Manning, who coached the team to a 20-8 record and got Bloomfield to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history, agreed that this year's team was special.
"Last year, we started learning how to win," Manning said. "This year, we expected to win."
Pablo finished with a team-high 20 points. Stevenson added 17 points and was 10 for 11 from the free-throw line.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.