On one hand, the Norman High girls looked like a state tournament team during Tuesday night’s season opener at the NHS gym.
On the other hand, Edmond Memorial looked like the slightly better team in the state tournament, especially during the stretch of the fourth quarter where the Tigers, already in foul trouble, might as well have lost their footing.
All that and it didn’t help a bit that future senior star Aaliyah Henderson was unavailable as she will be for the entire season after suffering an ACL tear in the offseason.
Nor did hitting 18 of 20 free throws in the second half hurt the Bulldogs, who trailed by five points early in the fourth quarter but led 65-58 at the buzzer, closing out the contest on a 13-4 run.
NHS’s Jordyn Rollins, interchangeable at the four and five spots along with Nessa Begai, who was forced to play with four fouls with 3:07 left in the third quarter, led the Tigers with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Begay, who added eight points and seven boards, picked up her fourth 70 seconds into the fourth quarter and her fifth 3:05 later.
If that made things more difficult, so did Memorial’s defense in the fourth quarter. It never settled and was perhaps the source of some heavy Tiger legs, limiting NHS to seven fourth quarter points, all from the free throw line.
“I thought the energy was good for both teams,” NHS coach Frankie Parks said. “But I also think our big players didn’t capitalize on some of those calls in the paint to be able to shoot free throws like they should have.”
Parks’ daughter Keeley, a sophomore playing in front of suitors that included Oklahoma coach Jenny Baranczyk and Chris Daley, Gino Auriemma’s perennial assistant at Connecticut, finished with 14 points and four assists, but struggled after halftime with the rest of her teammates, adding only five points after the break.
What usually happened down the stretch, either after the ball found Rollins or Begay inside or was dunked in the paint by Parks or Kaylin Simmons, was a convergence of Memorial’s defense around the ball, which, instead of opening up passes for passes to Tiger shooters, instead led to turnovers, loose balls or swinging shots that were unlikely to go in.
“That comes when we get tired,” Rollins said. “We somehow don’t think as well as when we have our energy.”
The heroes of the contest were Memorial’s Janiyah Williams and Baylor Franz, the latter of whom numbered for the Tigers last season as well.
Each scored 19 points, Williams added seven rebounds and Franz added six boards and three assists.
“Persistence,” Frankie Parks said, should be the Tigers’ ticket. “I thought we got a little tired in the fourth quarter, but consistency through four quarters is what we need.”
The Tigers are back on the court Friday, but not at Oklahoma.
They will open exhibition play in Mansfield, Texas, at the She Got Game Classic, against Conway (Arkansas) at 7:00 p.m. Friday before playing at Grandview High, outside of Aurora, Colo., at 11 a.m. Saturday.
If they advance, they may have Memorial to thank for putting them in the right frame of mind.
• EMHS Boys 37, NHS 36: The Tigers showed plenty of promise in Tuesday night’s season opener against Edmond Memorial, failing to hit their final shot.
On the other end — one possession and two timeouts after Trashawn Combs-Pierce gave NHS a point with two free throws with 20.6 seconds left — Memorial’s Ciaran Pedula found a way around the jam in the paint for a right-to-left spin layup that ended with scoring.
Cason Cole tried to win for the Tigers from the top of the key, but his 3-point shot attempt was deflected.
Cole shot well, though, hitting a quartet of 3-pointers and leading both teams with 17 points.
Combs-Pierce finished with 11.
Carter Jelmstad led Memorial with nine points.
NHS is back on the court Tuesday at Mustang.