ADA — Ada’s Lady Cougars have been a pretty good basketball team over the past two months. They’ve lost just twice in their last 14 games to improve to 20-6 on the season, and they survived four overtimes against El Reno and a late comeback by John Marshall in the area tournament to reach Jeff Maloy’s ninth state tournament in 14 seasons as head coach.

But Thursday, Maloy’s club will have to be better than just “pretty good” when Ada faces Class 5A’s top team, Tulsa East Central, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Broken Arrow High School in the Lady Cougars’ first state tournament game in five seasons.

“They have four kids who are anywhere from 5-11 to 6-1,” Maloy said of the 22-3 Lady Cardinals, who returned all five starters off last year’s 5A runner-up and beat their first three playoff opponents — Northwest (98-17), Durant (93-42) and seventh-ranked Bishop Kelley (93-53) by an incredible 284-112. “They’re very athletic and score a lot of points, and they score a lot of points in transition.

“On defense , they run a lot of pressure, a lot of man-to-man and a lot of traps, so they make you handle the ball,” Maloy added. “The first thing we have to is handle their pressure. If we do that, we have a good chance, because we shoot the ball better than they do.”

In the other state tournament Thursday involving an area team, sixth-ranked Coalgate (24-2) will face ninth-ranked Hinton (22-3) at 3:30 p.m. at Midwest City High School

CLASS 5A

Ada (20-6) vs. Tulsa East Central (22-3)

The 11th-ranked Lady Cougars were dominant at times against taller, more veteran teams than themselves in their last three games, losing to No. 9 Duncan on a bizarre play in overtime that might have been the key to Ada’s survival into the state tournament before beating No. 14 El Reno and No. 12 John Marshall.

In each of those contests, Maloy and his club — which has just one senior (Joy Barrick, a hard-nosed guard who has been playing well despite a broken right hand), two freshmen and two sophomores in its top seven players — were able to make plays down the stretch and managed to be in a position to win at the finish. The veteran Ada coach said he hopes his young club has grown up enough in the playoff pressure cooker to handle what East Central brings Thursday.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he admitted. “(The Lady Cardinals) were in the finals last year and have everybody back, so they’r experienced.

“But I didn’t think our kids panicked in our other playoff games — they just kept playing,” Maloy added. “I didn’t feel a sense of emergency with them, and that’s a good sign.”

Ada’s playoff run has been even more remarkable considering the fact that Maloy has re-invented his team several times during the season — something that would be difficult even with a veteran club. The Lady Cougars had five guards on the floor to start the second half against Duncan and to start Saturday’s contest with John Marshall, but 5-10 sophomore Lauren Whitworth was the team’s most consistent scorer in February and 6-1 junior Megan Foley (the team’s leading scorer last season) came off the bench to hit a key shot in the final minutes against John Marshall.

“I feel that we’re playing as a team, and that gives you an advantage,” Maloy said. “There is no selfishness, and everybody is out trying to do their part.

“I can’t think of another situation when we’ve done this before,” he said of his recent mix-and-match philosophy with his line-up. “We’re just really versatile this year. It’s kind of a situational team. It’s kind of unique, then, when you think about our youth, it’s really unusual.”

Even more unusual are some recent rebounding stats by a team that hasn’t had a player taller than 5-7 on the floor for the best part of its last three games. John Marshall started 6-1 Vanessa Moore and 5-10 Janissa Harris, but Ada outrebounded the Lady Bears by an impressive 31-20, and 5-6 freshman guard Taylor Howard had nine rebounds while Moore and Harris combined for just four.

“We’re blocking out and getting inside position,” Maloy said of the secret to his team’s success on the boards. “We’re really going to have to get focused on the boards Thursday, because East Central is the best rebounding team I’ve seen this year. We’ll all have to pull together.”

Although Maloy has been stressing the team concept perhaps even more than in past seasons because of the youth of his team, the Lady Cougars have two budding stars in junior Molly Maloy (the coach’s daughter) and freshman point guard Jourdan Clark. Molly Maloy has turned into a deadly clutch shooter after struggling as a sophomore, and Clark has shown amazing maturity and court savvy for a player of her size (5-4) and youth.

“Molly (who had 20 points against Duncan and 13 in the John Marshall win) is shooting the ball well, and that’s even when other teams are trying to limit her shots,” Maloy said. “As a freshman, nobody knew about her, and she averaged eight or nine points a game, but as a sophomore they started denying her the ball and she had to make that adjustment.

“Now she takes very few bad shots, and she’s been knocking them down,” he added. “But you can’t tell who’s going to be our leading scorer on a given night. We’ve had six different players who have led us in scoring this season.”

While Maloy remains the team’s best outside shooting threat, Clark has been a combination of quarterback (she is probably the area’s best ball-handler and has made few mistakes in the postseason) and scorer (she had a career-high 24 points Saturday and a team-high 16 against El Reno), and she showed no signs of feeling the playoff pressure when she made her last 13 free throws against John Marshall.

In fact, Clark has been on such a roll that her only glaring mistake in the playoffs could be the reason the Lady Cougars are playing this week.

Against Duncan in the regional final, Ada had a 44-41 lead in overtime when, on an inbounds play, Clark called a timeout she didn’t have. The Demonettes scored seven straight points to claim the regional crown but went on to lose back-to-back games to No. 3 Carl Albert and No. 6 Harrah in the area tournament while Ada was shoved into the loser’s bracket but had only to beat two softer opponents to survive.

“Maybe she planned it that way,” Maloy said.

Maloy said he hasn’t decided whether to go big or small against East Central but said he expects good things from whatever line-up he puts on the floor.

“We’ve had pretty good luck with our small line-up,” he said. “I go on gut feelings, so I try to keep all seven ready to start, and they’ve been stepping up.”

CLASS 2A

Coalgate (24-2) vs. Hinton (22-3)

The Lady Wildcats lost to third-ranked Pocola in the area championship but survived (to the first state tournament for a Coalgate girls’ team since 1958) in the loser’s bracket with a 43-35 victory over Konawa (their third victory over the Lady Tigers in three weeks).

Center Mallory Walker (more than 17 points and seven rebounds per game) has been the focus of the Coalgate offense all season, and that trend has continued in the playoffs. Walker, a 6-1 sophomore, has scored at least 21 points in each of the Lady Wildcats’ postseason contests, and Coalgate has also been getting some scoring recently from junior guard Teran Mixon and senior forward Lauren Sandmann (who had one of her best all-around games of the season against Konawa Saturday).

Hinton and Coalgate are two of seven teams in a loaded Class 2A girls’ bracket that has seven teams with four losses or fewer. Hinton is the lowest seed in the winner’s bracket but got to the state tournament with a 39-35 victory over fourth-ranked Preston; Coalgate, with a victory, will probably face top-ranked Washington at 2 p.m. Friday at Carl Albert.















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