ADA — Ada girls coach Jeff Maloy admits that he has a lot to learn about his team. He hopes to know more after the Lady Cougars compete in this week’s East Central Oklahoma Basketball Classic at the Cougar Activity Center.

“We’re going in there thinking we have a chance to win it,” Maloy said. “I don’t know much about my team right now, but I’ll know a lot more at the end of January.

“We’ve only played four games,” he added. “We don’t even have everything in (on offense and defense) yet.”

Maloy’s club — which has won three straight games after a season-opening loss at Wewoka — will face Western Heights at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the last of four opening-round girls contests. Action in the girls bracket will begin at 10:30 a.m. with Choctaw facing Shawnee, and later games have Sand Springs versus Idabel at 1:30 p.m. and Moore meeting Edmond North at 4:30.

On the boys’ side, the 1-3 Ada Cougars will play Sand Springs at 9 p.m. in the last of Thursday’s eight games (four boys, four girls). Earlier boys contests will have Lawton (No. 13 in Class 6A) playing the Jenks junior varsity at noon, Shawnee facing Idabel at 3 p.m. and Choctaw squaring off with Capitol Hill — ranked No. 7 in Class 5A — at 6 p.m.

A win over Sand Springs will send the Cougars into a probable second-round showdown with Capitol Hill at 9 p.m. Friday, while a loss would probably pit Ada against Choctaw in a rematch of the two teams’ losers’ bracket thriller in last year’s tournament — a game in which current Cougar coach Scott Lowrance directed Choctaw to a last-second victory.

The Lady Cougars returned four starters off last year’s 13-11 club, and Maloy said a year of maturity and the addition of freshman point guard Jourdan Clark should make his team better this season on several fronts.

“Jourdan Clark has moved into Laura Frye’s spot from last year, and she gives us one of the quickest kids on the floor every game,” Maloy noted. “We lost size, but we gained quickness.

“You take Jourdan and Jenny (Bolin) and Molly (Maloy) and (Joy) Barrick, and all four have played point guard, so it makes us a better ball-handling team,” he added. “We’re a better defensive team because of Jourdan and her quickness. Right now, we’re looking for the chemistry. It will come, but it’s still early.”

The Ada offense figures to revolve around Molly Maloy (the team’s leading scorer through four games) and 6-1 junior center Megan Foley (last season’s leading scorer at about 14 points per game), but Jeff Maloy said he will need some variety in his attack if the Lady Cougars are going to improve on last year’s record.

“Most people who play us try to shut down Molly and Megan, so we’re going to have a third person step up,” he explained. “Jourdan Clark, Caitlin Patrizi, Joy Barrick and Jenny Bolin have the opportunity to be that person.”

Barrick, last season’s starting point guard, has bee able to concentrate more on scoring this season (she is averaging about nine points a game), and Patrizi was the team’s top 3-point shooter a year ago and is just getting back to full speed after being sidelined six weeks with an ankle injury.

“Before the injury, Caitlin was really shooting the ball with a lot of confidence,” Maloy said. “When you take six weeks out of the gym, it kills your shot.

“She’s just now getting her shot back,” he added. “Come the end of January, she’ll be back in full force, and I think we’ll be full force. She’s a big part of our success.”

Although Maloy is hoping for consistent offensive production from at least one of his other three starters, the Lady Cougars’ offense has revolved around daughter Molly and Foley since the start of last season. Molly Maloy was an impact player as a freshmen but struggled throughout most of her sophomore season before finishing with a flourish, and Jeff Maloy said his daughter could be ready for a breakout season as a junior.

“I think as a freshman, Molly surprised a a lot of people,” the veteran coach explained. “As a sophomore, teams were more aware of her, and she didn’t let the game come to her.

“She’s averaging in double figures this season, and when she plays well, we play well,” Maloy added. “She’s only had one bad game (the season opener). The last three games, she’s played well, and I expect her to have a really good year.”

When Foley produced last season, the Lady Cougars were pretty good; when she didn’t the Ada attack struggled. Maloy said his junior center needs to find the consistency that was lacking in her game a year ago — consistency that should come if he can get some production from the perimeter.

“She could be a dominating post player, but it’s hard to be a dominating player when two or three people are sitting down in the paint with you,” he said. “If we can open up the floor with a couple of shooters and spread them out, she will be able to be a dominant player.

“We haven’t had enough games to see any consistency from Megan yet this season,” Maloy continued. “She’s capable of scoring in double figures every night, and she needs to if we’re going to be successful.”

Maloy said Western Heights has a new coach and a new attitude this season, and, no matter what happens in Thursday’s opening round, Ada will face a 6A club (Moore of Edmond North) in Friday’s second round.

“I don’t know much about the other teams in the tournament, but I know Edmond North is supposed to be pretty good,” he noted. “Western Heights has a new coach, and they’re more disciplined than they were last year, and I think Choctaw is supposed to be pretty good.”

Even if Ada doesn’t win three straight in the girls’ bracket and capture the title, Maloy said the tournament will give his players three more games together and, hopefully, a chance to continue the progress the Lady Cougars showed in their last three.

“They’re coachable and they’re good kids, so I’m optimistic about the rest of the season,” he said. “Time will tell.”

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