NORMAN — For the third time this year Norman North squared off against Norman High. And for the third time, the T-Wolves came away victorious.
In a game every bit as tight and physical as expected, North held on late to earn a 43-33 win in the regional championship game of the Class 6A playoffs.
“It feels great,” North junior Bri Kuestersteffen said. “We beat them twice in the regular season and that was great, but this game meant something so it was even better.”
The game came as a surprise matchup since in terms of seeding NHS wasn’t expected to advance to Saturday, but the Tigers upset Midwest City on Thursday to continue their season against North. And, despite the loss, both teams will continue the postseason in the area tournament.
Not that either team was thinking about that on Saturday afternoon. After a lopsided North victory in the first Clash of the season and a narrow one a week ago, both teams entered the game expecting a “dogfight,” as North coach Jeff Blough put it.
And that was exactly what they got. At times hectic, with four turnovers in the game’s first five possessions, and other times methodical, with possessions taking a minute or longer, the game went back-and-forth in the first half. It also was a physical game that several times saw players get tangled up and tumble to the court.
“It was exactly what I expected,” Blough said. “Both teams wanted it badly.”
The Timberwolves may have wanted it a little bit more. They watched a video on Youtube of the Tigers celebrating in the North stands a year ago, something that Blough said was a big motivator.
“We came out focused and knew what we wanted to do,” he said. “And we played outstanding defense tonight.”
That defense included a standout effort by Sam Landreth, who held NHS’ leading scorer Taylor Ely to just nine points, one of her lowest-scoring games on the year.
That allowed North to extended the lead to as many as 10 points in the second half before the Tigers fought back late. But led by Paige Canty, who went 5 for 5 at the free throw line, the T-Wolves hit their final six free throws to put the game out of reach.
Kuestersteffen led North with 14 points and made several key drives to the basket in the fourth quarter. The T-Wolves also got 13 points and nine rebounds from freshman Alexa Scott. Bethany Cox led NHS with 11 points and five boards and Albany Anderson added 10 and seven.
“We didn’t play as a team tonight like we did on Thursday,” NHS coach Nichole Copeland said after the loss. “They were in total control night from the minute they went up 8-2. After that they slowed the game down and controlled the clock, and we were scrambling the entire way.”
With the win, North is now just one game away from the state tournament. That will comes Thursday against Edmond Memorial, which upset No. 4 Southmoore on Saturday. The winner will advance to state while the loser will have to win again to do so. North and Edmond Memorial squared off three times this season, with North winning all three games.
On the flip side, NHS will face off against Southmoore on Thursday, looking for its first win against the SaberCats this year in their third meeting.
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