By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
SKIATOOK — When Norman North advanced to the state tournament in Skiatook a year ago, the T-Wolves entered the quarterfinals favored to win. Instead, they were upset and exited the tournament early. It was a different story on Thursday, when North faced undefeated Broken Arrow in the opening round.
And North almost shocked the state.
The Timberwolves stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the second half and cut the lead to a single point in the fourth quarter, giving themselves several chances to take the lead.
But North couldn’t come up with the big shot, and a nearly three-minute scoring drought late in the game sunk the Timberwolves’ hopes of an upset as Broken Arrow pulled away for a 56-46 win.
Everything but the roster was different for the Timberwolves’ 2014 state tournament. Playing in the arena in Skiatook, a wide-open arena that North coach Jeff Blough said hurt his players last season, the T-Wolves gave No. 1 Broken Arrow everything it could handle. Haley Woodard, who turned in one of the less-than-stellar games of her career in a losing effort for North last season, more than made up for that on Thursday, scoring 16 on the night and carrying North while it made its third-quarter run to climb back into the game after being down 17 points.
The Timberwolves played with a full and healthy roster for the first time since December, and they showed what a dangerous team they are when at full strength. Tia Williams returned after nearly a month out with an injury and scored seven for North, while Bri Kuestersteffen ended a memorable career with 13 points and several huge shots for the Timberwolves.
But the Tigers, led by the combination of Toree Thompson and Amari Dennis, who scored 20 and 17 points respectively, pulled away after North cut the lead to 44-43 with 4:30 to play. Broken Arrow (26-0) held North scoreless for nearly three minutes and hit its final six free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win.
“To make it back here with the injuries we’ve had this season, that’s something,” Blough said. “For Tia to come back and give us a spark like she did tonight, and for Paige Canty to handle the pressure like she did and Sam Landreth to do everything she does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, that’s what this program is based on. There was no quit in their eyes.”
Broken Arrow jumped out early and looked like it might run away with the game after taking a 32-20 lead into the locker room at halftime and extending it to 17 early in the third. But North fought back thanks to eight third-quarter points from Woodard to go along with several more steals. The Timberwolves (18-6) outscored Broken Arrow 19-10 in the quarter and gave themselves a shot at the upset before going cold late in the game.
North will return four starters next season but will graduate a trio of seniors in Kuestersteffen, Julian Mougell and Summer Steadman.
“This group has meant so much to this program,” Blough said. “When we first got Julian she was a project, and to see where she’s come in four years is amazing. Summer is a girl who loves to compete and be a teammate, and she did an incredible job of that. Bri is one of the best, if not the best, basketball player to ever come out of North. She’s meant so much to this team and to me personally, it’s going to be strange not having her on the floor next year.
“They’ve left the program on solid footing, and I expect to be back here next year.”
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