TULSA — Maybe it was the Gatorade.
Norman North’s Bri Kuestersteffen entered Thursday’s opening game of the Tournament of Champions not entirely recovered from an illness that had her down during the holidays.
But after blending a special mixture of sports drinks she turned in her best game of the young season.
“I was really sick on Tuesday, that’s why I had to have the Gatorade,” Kuestersteffen said after turning in a 17-point performance to lead North to a 60-44 victory over Preston in the opening round of the invitation tournament. “It’s a really big deal to be invited to this tournament, and we wanted to come out and make a statement.
The Timberwolves certainly did that on Thursday as they dominated Class 2A’s second-ranked team with Kuestersteffen leading the way. About the only thing she didn’t do well on Thursday was shoot free throws. The usually automatic foul shooter went 0-for-5 at the charity stripe and was visibly frustrated at the line.
But with the game Kuestersteffen had — adding four assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals to her 17 points — coach Jeff Blough could forgive his senior leader.
“Bri got going early; I’ve been waiting for her to do that all season,” he said. “She did a great job and got everybody involved. We played A-B-C basketball, executed and found the open girl. They came out really focused.”
It was an impressive victory for No. 5 North (3-1), which was playing in its first Tournament of Champions and drew the early game the day after Christmas. But the Timberwolves came out focused from the start, jumping out to a 5-0 lead, turning it into a 16-7 first-quarter lead and cruising from there.
It was a different story for Class 2A’s No. 2 Preston (7-2), which looked flat from the start and turned the ball over 12 times in the loss. Star underclassmen Chelsea Dungee and Ki-Essence Shields had big games with 17 and 25 points respectively, but the pair were largely bottled up by the Timberwolves. Dungee — who last week scored 52 points in a win over Will Rogers — spent the game being guarded by Sam Landreth, and all but eight of her points came at the free throw line, and the rest of the team besides the pair managed just two points.
“What a job Sam did today,” Blough said. “She’s not the fastest or most athletic kid on the court, but she’s got the biggest heart. I thought she really frustrated Dungee today.”
While Preston’s points were dominated by two players, North displayed the balance that is quickly becoming its trademark this season. Seven Timberwolves scored on Thursday, and five of those players had at least six points.
Kuestersteffen led the way with 17, but North also got 11 points and seven rebounds from Haley Woodard and nine points and four rebounds from Paige Canty. Alexa Scott added five to go along with 10 rebounds.
North returns to the court at 8:30 p.m. today for the tournament semifinal.
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