SKIATOOK — Norman North coach Jeff Blough said before the Class 6A state tournament the Timberwolves were ahead of schedule.
With three sophomores, a freshman and a junior in the starting lineup, North’s undefeated run through the playoffs came as something as a surprise to some. And after a come-from-behind victory over Edmond Memorial in the area championship and a favorable first-round matchup against Tulsa Union, the Timberwolves seemed ready for a deep run.
But that inexperience caught up to the T-Wolves on Thursday, with Tulsa Union taking advantage of a passive North offense and building a 12-point second-half lead before withstanding a furious T-Wolves comeback late to hold on for a 44-40 win.
Union played in a 3-2 zone the entire game, packing the lane to negate North’s size advantage inside with Alexa Scott and Julian Mougell. The Redskins also blanketed Bri Kuestersteffen every time she touched the ball, cutting off driving lanes and contesting every shot.
The result was a North offense that was out of sync from start to finish. The T-Wolves managed just 20 points through three quarters, and didn’t gather any momentum until the final three minutes of the game, when they cut the deficit to four points before coming up short.
“We were just standing around on offense, and it’s the first time all year we’ve done that,” Blough said. “We weren’t sure of what we wanted to do and we just watched. The last few minutes of the game we finally started moving and getting to the basket, but by then it was too late.”
North prepared all week to attack Union’s zone, but were unable to have any success once the ball tipped. The T-Wolves turned the ball over 14 times and couldn’t generate any offense through three quarters. Despite that they were able to hang around for most of the game, trailing 18-14 at halftime and by just two points midway through the third.
Blough said nerves were a factor, and one that didn’t become any easier after Union came out hot and hit four 3s in the first half.
“I’m sure their hearts were beating pretty fast when they came out of that tunnel and saw the arena,” Blough said. “Part of that was what (Union) did. They’re long and athletic and collapsed that zone in on us.”
Kuestersteffen led the T-Wolves with 14 points, with 11 of those coming in the fourth-quarter run that almost brought North back. Scott also added 10 points and 7 rebounds. I’mani Davis and Brittany Hill each had 14 for Union, while Esther Udoumoh added 10 points and seven rebounds.
While Thursday may not have been North’s day, the Timberwolves graduate just one senior. With the core of this year’s squad back next year they plan on being back in state, better prepared for having made it this season.
“It was a great season,” Kuestersteffen said. “We shocked a lot of people. We weren’t expected to even make it this far. The errors we made today showed how young we are, and they’re things we’ll work on and improve for next year.”
Follow me @Chosler88