NORMAN — A year ago, Norman High came within a few possessions of winning its first title in 11 years at the Bishop McGuinness Classic. But the Tigers came up just short in the title game, losing to the host school 48-39.
The Tigers will look to better that performance when they tip off at 7:30 tonight against Guthrie, the final game of the day and coming a few hours after Norman North kicks off the tournament with a 1:30 p.m. contest against Deer Creek.
Of course, NHS coach Matt Thornton has other issues besides a title on his mind. The Tigers are reeling after losing starter Jay Finley to injury just before Christmas, and have lost four straight since then.
“We’re just excited about getting back out there and getting another opportunity to play,” Thornton said. “The kids have been sharp and practice has been going well. The energy level is back up.”
Along with the energy level, another thing the Tigers have more of is practice time. Since Finley went out after the Norman North game on Dec. 20, holidays and tournaments limited the Tigers’ time in the gym. After three straight days of practice before tonight’s game against Guthrie, Thornton thinks his team has straightened some things out.
“The break kind of messed us up because we had no time to make adjustments, and that was rough,” he said. “But we’ve played four games since Jay went out, and we’re starting to find out who’s going to fill those minutes. I think we’ve figured out some way to fill the void.”
So far, that has meant an increased scoring load for Sam Blodgett, Cooper Clark and Daniel Harper, something Thornton expects to continue. He’s also looking for Ryan Cox to continue improving, even if it doesn’t translate to points.
“Ryan’s one of those guys people don’t talk about much, but he does a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Thornton said. “He gets big rebounds for us, he makes things happen with his energy on defense, and he’s always in the right spot.”
Like NHS, North is looking for consistency when the T-Wolves tip off. In consecutive games against the top-ranked teams in the state in Edmond Memorial and Midwest City, the Timberwolves showed that they could play with the top of Class 6A. But what they couldn’t do was beat them, in large part to defensive lapses and questionable decisions.
It’s something coach Butch Roberts hopes will improve against the competitive field at McGuinness.
“There’s no one we can’t play with,” he said. “But we’ve got to fix some things first.”
Among those things are screens and rebounds. In last week’s losses, North was heavily outrebounded by its opponents, an issue that is Roberts’ top priority this weekend.
“If we want to get to the next level, we have to fix those things first,” he said.
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com